Save the Toursits! Save the Economy!

In Clint Clark's neighborhood, they call it "jacking a tourist." The J-T for short. The media have branded the crime a "smash-and-grab." It boils down to the same thing: detaining a car full of tourists and then robbing them.

To fourteen-year-old Clark the J-T is an everyday occurrence, something friends and acquaintances discuss with the same offhand braggadocio that white suburban kids might use in boasting about a shoplifting spree at the mall. "They'll come around here wearing new shoes and shit, saying, 'Yeah, I just got me a 'book.' A pocketbook, they mean," Clark explains. "They'll tell you how they did it, too. They'll be like, 'I had to drag this bitch all the way out her car.'" A freshman at Edison High School, Clark heard the same stories from his sixteen-year-old brother, a smash-and-grabber who used to come home in the finest designer clothing before his arrest earlier this year.

Clark has heard all about the most recent J-T pulled in his Liberty City neighborhood. After all, endless reports on television and in the Miami Herald have detailed the slaying of Barbara Meller Jensen, a German tourist who was savagely beaten and run over by two black assailants April 2 near the 62nd Street exit off Interstate 95. Frantic live updates about the arrest of two suspects a week later kept the story churning.

The murder, witnessed by Jensen's mother and two children, was the sixth tourist killing in Florida since December and spurred Germany's Consul General in Miami, Klaus Sommer, to threaten a German tourist boycott. Fearful such a move would cripple the state's annual $28 billion tourism industry, Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, Governor Lawton Chiles, even U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno all issued appropriately grave sound bites. A special task force convened by the governor, along with local police, hastily devised a battery of plans to stop tourist-bashing, including new road signs, revamped license plates, and beefed-up police patrols.

Like a lot of the kids he knows, Clark laughed when he heard about these measures. "You could put a cop on every corner, and the boys who play would find a way around it. The problem ain't cops. The problem is here," says Clark, scanning the barren landscape at 6th Avenue and 62nd Street, near the site of Jensen's murder. "There's nothing to do. No jobs. No [recreational] centers. Everybody wants to help the tourists. What about us? What about this place?"

An aspiring architect who hopes to attend Morehouse College, Clark could have offered plenty of advice about how to curb the wilder boys on his home turf (and make no mistake, they are almost all young boys). He would have told the governor to fix the night lights at nearby Athalie Range Park, which have been broken since Hurricane Andrew. Or to renew funding for his recently scrapped summer school program. Or to hire more black police, since he and his friends don't trust white officers. But nobody asked Clint Clark for his advice.

Nor, in the last two weeks, as pundits and politicians have clucked over the latest media-generated crisis, have more than a few sparing words been spoken about the roots of the tragedy that befell Jensen. Rather than admit that years of neglect have transformed Dade's inner cities into crime factories fueled by boredom and hatred, political and civic leaders have rallied behind the notion that simply keeping tourists away from the ghettos will solve the problem. (Natives, it is implied, already know which areas to avoid).

"When are we going to recognize the inequities that have produced these kinds of hatred?" demands the Rev. Billy Baskin, pastor of Carol City's New Way Fellowship Baptist Church. "That young boys could feel enough hatred to kill someone they don't even know A there is a deep-seated evil here that we have to face." An evil, presumably, that will require more than banning "Y" and "Z" license plates.

"This act was a reflection of systemic evils that have been allowed to fester in our community: racial division, economic disparity, political shenanigans, the failure of our judiciary," Baskin asserts. "Those aren't excuses for this senseless act. There are no excuses for taking another's life. But we should at least get to the real explanations."

Baskin says he is distressed by the way local media -- which often set the agenda for politicians -- have framed the Jensen murder as a story about "protecting tourists and protecting our economy." And he is not alone.

"We've been complaining about crime in our community for years," says Nathaniel Wilcox, executive director of People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality (PULSE). "They've robbed us clean. Broken into our homes and stolen everything we own to the point that they're now going after tourists because they have money. Where were the police and politicians when these criminals were robbing us?"

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Steven Almond
Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede