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See It like a Native




700 more cops will not solve crime problem

September 20, 1985


On Wednesday the Metro Commission wisely snuffed a scheme that would have raised property taxes to put 700 more cops on the streets. The Dragnet Tariff, I call it.

It's hard to imagine how otherwise sane and circumspect members of Miami Citizens Against Crime could have conceived something so lame and simple-minded. Maybe this is what happens when wealthy white folks in the suburbs get a gritty taste of urban crime.

When the corporate VP's wife is too scared to drive to Dadeland, when an executive's home is invaded by thugs, when robbers move from the projects onto the interstate—then we've got ourselves a crime wave.

Suddenly the streets aren't safe. Suddenly we need more cops.

Tell that to the grandmother in Liberty City who's lucky to make it to the Pantry Pride without losing her purse to thieves.

Or the widow on South Beach with triple dead bolts on the door.

Or the Hialeah cabbie who gets a pistol shoved in his ear.

For these people, fear is nothing new. They don't need to see the FBI statistics, and they don't need histrionics from downtown businessmen. And they definitely don't need more police—they need the ones we've already got put to better use.

Since 1980, Metro's police roster has grown 48 percent, from 1,480 to 2,195 officers. At the same time, the city of Miami added 61 percent more police, from 660 to 1,062.

For five years we've been throwing more cops at the criminals and what have we got to show for it? The highest murder rate in America, and the second highest violent crime rate.

Under the Dragnet Tariff, property taxes would have been hiked to generate up to $90 million for expanded police departments, courts and jails.

What's wrong with that? First, the fantasy that more cops mean less crime. Dade County is living proof that it isn't true.

Swamp I-95 with state troopers and the highway robbers simply retreat to neighborhood intersections—where they keep on robbing.

Unleash an army of U.S. drug agents to wage war on smugglers and—five years later—cocaine has never been purer, cheaper or more abundant.

Still, you never hear police brass complaining about too much manpower; they'd take paratroopers if somebody offered.

The truth is, local police departments have all they can do to manage the cops they've got. Metro is investigating some of its own for allegedly peddling cocaine. Two Miami policemen recently were busted for allegedly trying to sell guns and badges to drug dealers, while several others are being investigated for crimes including murder, robbery and, ironically, home invasions. This week a Hialeah officer went on trial for a drug execution.

Obviously it's time for recruiters to stress quality over quantity; one rotten cop negates a hundred good ones.

Both Metro and Miami will be adding some police under the new budgets. In the meantime our restless civic pillars ought to turn their attention to the elements that produce the criminals whom we so fear—the unemployment, poverty, teenaged pregnancies, broken homes and dropout rate. Solving these problems isn't going to happen over cocktails at the Banker's Club.

I wish the MCAC—which has been a leader on the crime issue—could persuade county commissioners to scrape up big money for more first-rate teachers. Plus a few more million for vocational training, or drug education in the schools, or Parole and Probation.

Politically, of course, it's easier to put a prowl car on every corner. Had the Dragnet Tariff passed, we certainly would have seen results: more arrests, more overcrowded prisons, more clogged court dockets, more early paroles. And the streets would have been no safer.

As long as some neighborhoods remain bleak factories of crime, we can put a whole generation in jail and it won't help. There'll always be a bitter new wave, coming of age in the same social misery.

Dilapidated county clinic medical shame

April 30, 1986


The sick children come here, where the roof peels, the pipes leak, the electric wires get wet, the carpet turns moldy.

Where it's so overcrowded that babies' urine samples are taken in the hallways. Where not long ago a pregnant mother tripped over a crawling infant, fell and cut herself. Where there's no room for private consultations, even for gynecological patients.

Where the waiting room is often so packed that the line of youngsters spills outside, all the way to the busy street. "It's a miracle," one nurse says, "that we haven't lost a baby to a car."

This is the South Miami public health clinic, the shame of the county.

For months nurses, patients and administrators have been writing letters, signing petitions and pleading with authorities to do something, because the place is crumbling.

They've received numerous replies—all politely sympathetic—but little help. Meanwhile several veteran nurses have asked for transfers after coming down with respiratory illnesses; another contracted hepatitis. The staff is convinced that the South Miami health clinic is not a healthy place to be.

The one-story building at 5798 SW 68th St. is only 3,170 square feet. It probably was never meant to be a medical clinic, and certainly never meant to serve 3,723 patients.

Those who bother to come out and see it agree: It's a terrible place to bring the children.

From Administrator Ada DeVeaux, who's been with the health department since 1956: "I've never worked in a facility like this in all the years I've been here. It's a fire hazard, the whole place."

From nurse Maureen Orr, who's worked at rustic hospitals in Vietnam and Colombia: "I truly never have worked in such deplorable conditions … We keep wondering why, what's happening?"

The county says fixing the South Miami clinic is a job for the state. The state says money is tight. While memos shoot back and forth, the kids keep coming.

Last week the clinic shut down for four days when water gushed through the ceiling into one of the examining rooms. The overhead pipes had rusted out, leaking dangerously all over the electrical connections. After TV stations showed footage of the damage, the pipes got repaired, the ceiling got plastered, and the clinic reopened.

The patients who come here—up to 200 a day—are mostly poor. Many are Mariel and Nicaraguan refugees who travel from as far south as 12oth Street, and as far west as the Collier County line. Almost everyone pays a nominal fee for a doctor's exam.

The children wait for tetanus shots, TB vaccines, throat cultures—the sort of things all kids need. Pregnant women and new mothers wait, too—many of them high-risk patients who need special attention.

Hundreds and hundreds of families depend on the South Miami clinic for basic health care that most of us take for granted. If we could help it, we wouldn't take our kids to a place that even the nurses say is hazardous. Some parents have no choice; that they care enough to bring their babies is reason enough for the state to do better.

"A disgrace," agrees state Rep. Betty Metcalf.

Upset by conditions at the clinic, she and Sen. Roberta Fox are trying to pry some money out of the Legislature. Unfortunately, an election year isn't the optimum time to ask for a brand-new clinic.

The staff at South Miami would happily settle for a different location—any empty old building with at least 10,000 square feet, and some funds to fix it up. Metcalf and Fox are shooting for at least $500,000 for repairs and renovations.

The folks in Tallahassee are unfailingly generous when it comes to subsidizing operas and auto races and beauty pageants and tourist promotions. Here's a chance to help out a special interest group that's really special—sick children who've got to wait in the sun, just to see a doctor.

Despair, rage fester in housing projects

July 27, 1987


Seven long summers ago, Northwest 22nd Avenue was afire in July.

People who lived in the James E. Scott housing project lined the sidewalks to throw rocks and bottles and epithets at passing cars. The mood was furious and grieving, an afterburst of the McDuffie riots.

Today, if you visit Scott or just about any project in Liberty City, ask the people what has changed in their lives. The answer is sometimes bitter and sometimes resigned, but always the same: Nothing has changed, they say; not a damn thing.

The New York Times could run a 7-year-old photograph of the Scott project and nobody would notice the difference, because there is no difference. Many have tried to do good things, but the lives of most people haven't improved.

It's hard to explain how there is so little money for job training or decent housing or black business loans at the same time $2 million in public funds is being spent on a one-day visit by the pope.

Last week, while some folks were hyperventilating about Miami's image in the newspaper, folks in Liberty City were trying to sweat out the deep heat. While civic leaders flew to Manhattan and got rooms at the Waldorf, activist Georgia Ayers stayed here and tried to keep a few youngsters out of jail. She lost no sleep over the Times magazine article.

"I'm not angry about anything they said about Miami," she said. "I hope it shames the hell out of them."

The ugly, malignant truth is that things are worse in Liberty City and Overtown than they were in 1980 or 1983, when riots broke out. Add to the unemployment, lousy housing, high crime and lost promises a new ingredient for despair: crack cocaine.

A block off 62nd Street, lanky dealers hang in pairs on the street corners, with toddlers playing underfoot. Driving through is chilling enough; having to live here is harrowing.

The Rev. Barry Young is a former juvenile court bailiff who is now a counselor with Ayers' Alternative Program, which works with first-time criminal offenders. Rev. Young thinks the peace on the streets is brittle and tense.

"The spark is there," he said as we pulled into Scott.

On a scrubby vacant lot, middle-aged men sat in the shade and watched the cars go by. Counselor Marcia Wallace: "When you get up at 7:30 in the morning and your father's sitting out there, and when you come home after school at 3 o'clock and he's still there … "

William Smith: "There's a lot of people out of a job. Like me, I'm out of a job." But he was radiantly proud of his niece, Jarenae, who last year won two trophies and two certificates for scholastic excellence at Drew Junior High.

By contrast, a magenta Cadillac cruised 6ist Street—brand-new car, the paper tag still taped to the rear window. The driver wasn't more than 17; his passengers even younger. "Did you see that? Can you believe that?" Rev. Young said.

On a corner across from Gwen Cherry Park, where knee-high kids were running circles in the grass, a young man in a black Jaguar sedan pulled up to do some business with the local retailers. Everyone on the block knew who and what he was; the little ones will, too, someday.

Julia Sullivan, 73, has lived two decades in the same Liberty City apartment. From her front door she sees a world that is not much different for her four great-grandchildren than it was for her 20 grandchildren, or her 11 children before that.

"The children need to get off the streets, they need a job," Mrs. Sullivan said. "Sometimes needing and wanting are two different things."

In the projects, the heat bakes so hard and the air rises so thick that it would seem to leave no strength for picking up a rock or a bottle or a gun. That's what we thought seven years ago, too.

Of a shy young ninth-grader, Rev. Young asked: "What do you want to see change?"

"Everything," the young man said.

For poorest, life only gets worse

January 18, 1989


The word is riot.

Not melee, or disturbance, or incident. If it makes you feel better, go ahead and say it that way.

But the word is riot.

Whether it lasts five minutes, five hours or five days, the ingredients are the same—the fierce combustion of honest passion, confused fury, frustration and idle thuggery.

A young man is dead in the street with a police bullet in his head, and all you know is what you hear on the corner, and what you hear on the corner is bad.

So there is your spark.

What you saw on television the other night you've seen before. And if you were there, in Overtown, there was only one word for what was happening. And it was happening on Martin Luther King Day, of all days.

Gunshots. Looting. Cars on fire. Cops under siege. What would you call it—a heated dispute?

For, oh, how we yearn to minimize this thing, to calibrate it in some way to reassure the tourists and the national media that it isn't as terrible as it was in 1982 or 1980.

No, it's not nearly as terrible. Not if you merely add up the dead and wounded, count all the rocks and bottles. Take a quick survey of gutted buildings and charred cars.

No, by that measure it's not as terrible as before. Not unless you happen to live there. Then it's worse.

On Monday night, troopers blocked the interstate and sealed off the core of the city. On Tuesday morning, civic types downplayed what this will do to Miami's future as a vacation destination. They hoped that the visiting press wouldn't dwell on this isolated "disturbance" on the eve of the Super Bowl.

Well, screw the football game. This community's problem is slightly more pressing than PR. What good is a shimmering new skyline when the streets below it are bleaker than ever?

We've got neighborhoods that in eight years have edged no closer to becoming humane places to raise a family. Neighborhoods with not enough decent housing and not enough decent jobs. And now we've got a new influx of refugees to add to the tension.

We also have something we didn't have in 1982 or 1980, something to deepen the cycle of despair and futility. Now we have crack cocaine.

In these neighborhoods, some of the first sounds that a child learns to recognize are the flat crack of gunfire and the whine of a police siren.

Nearing midnight: We are on the corner of Northwest Second Avenue and 2oth Street. A building has been set aflame and a crowd is gathered outside to watch it go down, and talk about what happened to the young man on the motorcycle, the young man who died.

The intersection is clogged with cops and journalists. The fire gives an orange glow to the smoke roiling skyward, a sight that brings back memories. This time around, the cops know the drill of neighborhood containment. This time around, most of the photographers are wearing bulletproof vests.

Every time a squad car goes by—pump guns bristling from the windows—there is the crackle of broken glass on pavement; glass everywhere, just like the last time. Two dumpsters are on fire. Overhead a police helicopter circles the blaze and aims a piercing white eye on the dismal neighborhood.

On the corners with the women are children, so many of them, and so small. Many of these kids were not yet born when Arthur McDuffie was beaten to death near the expressway. Some were still in diapers when Nevell Johnson Jr. was shot in the head at a video arcade.

Now, barefoot, these children of the new Miami tiptoe around the glass on the street. Gingerly they pick up the small gray cardboard canisters—toys for the little ones, souvenirs for teenagers. The labels on the canister say: No. 2 Riot Agent CS Grenade, Continuous Discharge. Manufactured by the Smith & Wesson Chemical Co.

Riot agent. Gas. A pungent damp cloud of the stuff rolls down 2oth Street. This time around, the cops and photographers have brought masks.

The little children rub their eyes and scurry to get upwind. It is their first whiff of tear gas, but they are learning fast. On these streets, they will have no choice.

HRS research project is a study in folly

January 29, 1990


What will those clever minds at HRS think of next?

The newest scheme is to deny job training to thousands of eligible poor people—then pay for a research study to see how they're doing.

Amazing but true.

This spring, about 5,500 indigent Floridians will be purposely shut out of a program that offers job skills and child-care benefits instead of straight welfare. The theory behind the $25 million Project Independence was to train people for jobs so that eventually they can get off public assistance.

Similar welfare-to-work plans have been advocated as a first step toward fixing the nation's paralyzed anti-poverty programs. Many experts now believe that welfare is hopeless unless it's tied positively to employment.

To test the effectiveness of Project Independence, a private research company will create what is known in science as a control group—in this case, 5,500 people who will be denied the job classes and child care, and studied like human guinea pigs.

Their "progress" over a three-year period will be compared to that of the 11,000 luckier souls enrolled in Project Independence.

Gee, I wonder what the findings might be. Do you suppose a person who gets job training stands a slightly better chance of finding work than someone with no skills?

To answer this and other stumpers, The Manpower Demonstration Research Corp. of New York is being paid $2.4 million. The firm has conducted similar studies elsewhere, and claims that the results enable "workfare" programs to become more efficient.

That sounds like promotional hype, but let's assume it isn't. Let's assume the methodology is sound. If hope is snatched from a single destitute family, then the human cost of this experiment is too high.

Several legislators have joined sociologists in condemning the program as cruel and exploitative. HRS says the study is perfectly ethical.

Maybe a white rat wouldn't put up a fuss, but these are human beings chosen without their consent to be Group A—the have-nots. The selection process is supposedly random, a bleak lottery that will affect the lives of needy people from Dade, Broward and seven other counties. Between 15 and 25 percent of all who apply for the jobs program will be shunted to the control group.

Remember that the outcasts are fully eligible under the law to participate in Project Independence. They are being rejected purely because the state wants to see how they fare without this special help.

Wait until the have-nots discover that somebody is being paid $2.4 million to watch them scurry through the urban maze. It works out to about $436 for every man, woman and child in the control group. The Ford Foundation gave $400,000 to bankroll the study, while we taxpayers are providing the remaining $2 million.

There's nothing wrong with reviewing public assistance projects to see if they really work. Given the miserable history of welfare, it makes sense to take a hard look at each program—but not like this.

The HRS plan is misguided, wasteful, coldhearted and just plain dumb. What possible social insight can be gained by randomly denying opportunity to some indigents while rewarding others? And what do you tell the unlucky ones—sorry, folks, maybe next time?

As long as the Legislature is funding deprivation experiments on humans, here's an interesting one:

Make a random selection of state employees (say, the Secretary of HRS and his top staff) and take away their jobs for three years. No salaries, no state cars, no expense accounts, no health insurance, no pensions.

Then hire several thousand poor people (for, say, $2.4 million) to go around studying the dreary new lifestyle of Mr. Gregory Coler and his bureaucrats. Follow them to the grocery and the bank and the doctor's office. See how they're getting along with no money.

Certainly such innovative public servants wouldn't mind taking a turn being poor, in the name of science.

Prostitutes talk of risk—and addiction

May 14, 1990


Nine prostitutes gathered in the library of the Dade Women's Detention Center.

They talked about selling sex in the harrowing age of AIDS and crack cocaine. What they said was: Not much has changed. They carry protection. They get tested for the disease whenever they're in jail. Beyond that, it's business as usual. The Johns don't seem too worried. Most of the time, they don't even want to put on a condom.

Victoria Brown, 26, arrested near Biscayne Boulevard: "If you're a heavy crack user, it doesn't matter if you've got AIDS or not. If you get in a car and the guy asks if you've got AIDS, are you gonna tell him the truth? No way. Not if you want to get paid."

By her own count, Victoria has been arrested 95 times on prostitution-related charges. She is 26 years old, a veteran of county jails.

Sun Kelly, a slender South Korean woman, makes $600 to $700 on Saturday nights—a sum envied by the others. Where does all the money go? "Smoke," Sun said. She's been a prostitute for 25 years.

Ask the group who else smokes rock, and they all raise their hands. "Crack cocaine," said one, "is the biggest pimp there ever was."

To explain their dangerous lifestyle, the women tell of enslaving drug habits and, often, a wretchedly brutal family past. Their customers usually have no such excuse. You see these idiots getting nabbed in police sweeps on the nightly news—blue-collar guys, professionals, Yuppies, college kids. Talk about mindless desperation. Talk about stupid.

A sample of what's out there: Of the nine prostitutes interviewed, most had used intravenous drugs. At least two women (one of them three months pregnant) had syphilis, while another had herpes. Most said they had been tested before for the AIDS virus—all negative, they said. But keep in mind: By the time the results of their latest tests are known, they'll be out turning tricks again.

From Victoria Brown: "I've had over 15 tests, and I never once found out the results." She says she'd quit if she were notified that she'd tested positive. That's what they all said. "I would commit suicide," added Linda McArthur. "I would take an OD of heroin and die." Said another: "I'd lock myself in a room and smoke myself to death."

But, tragically, prostitutes with AIDS often continue working. They have no place else to go—even if they're dying, even if they risk infecting others. The justice system keeps them for 30 days, maybe 60 days, that's about it.

Proposed laws that would keep infected prostitutes in custody have failed in the Legislature; it's doubtful such measures would survive a constitutional challenge. While it's a crime to give another person a sexual disease, prosecution is nearly impossible.

It is not a crime to be sick and alone on a street corner.

Roxcy Bolton, an activist who has been counseling abused women for years, says a halfway house is needed, a facility where AIDS-stricken prostitutes can go. It would be, in one sense, a hospice—a quiet place to die.

There's no assurance that all would choose to stay there, but the opportunity should exist. To continue putting these women back on the streets is madness.

"If something is wrong with me, I want to know," said Tina Green. A prostitute since age 13, she still has no plans to quit out of fear. "This is a career for me," she said.

Although statistics indicate the prostitute is more often the recipient than the transmitter of AIDS, the sexual act puts every customer at risk. And there are other victims of the trade, some of them truly innocent.

A year and a half ago, Victoria Brown went into labor while lying in a Miami crack house. She got to the hospital just in time, but didn't stay long.

"I left my baby in Jackson, and I never went back." She said she doesn't know what happened to the child, or where it is today.

Then she began to cry, and all the women—every one—cried with her.

Con artists hit the road to prey on old

May 23, 1990


The criminals we worry most about are crack dealers, armed robbers, rapists and murderers. This fear comes from living in urban America.

There's another kind of crook who is seldom caught, rarely prosecuted and almost never jailed. Yet his brand of crime is particularly cruel and predatory because it targets the elderly who live alone.

Every year gypsy criminals come scouting for victims in the Sun Belt. They knock on doors and offer bargain home repairs, roof sealing and driveway paving—work that's invariably shoddy and overpriced.

A more sinister ruse is the unarmed "home invasion"—one thief talks his way into a house and distracts the owner, while partners loot the place. In this way, hundreds of old people have lost all their money. In one month, 26 such gypsy burglaries were documented in the city of Miami; frequently the thieves pose as utility workers from FPL or Southern Bell.

Because court systems are already clogged, the traveling con artist is a low priority. The crime networks, though, are vast and well-organized webs that take in millions—and are more difficult to penetrate than the Mafia.

This week the Florida attorney general's office is holding a police seminar on Eastern European and American gypsies, as well as the "travelers," vagabond thieves of Irish, Scottish and English descent. (The notorious Williamsons of bogus roofing fame are Scottish travelers.)

Bunco cops know all the sad stories. The driveway paver whose "asphalt" is nothing but motor oil mixed with gravel. The "exterminator" who smuggles a piece of termite-eaten lumber into the attic and offers it as proof of infestation.

On the infrequent occasions that they're caught, gypsies and travelers rarely do time. Typically they offer full restitution in exchange for dropping the charges. "When they're arrested," said investigator John Wood, "they're usually the most polite, courteous people you'd ever want to meet."

Like everything else, it's an act. In addition to swindling the elderly, criminal gypsies go for insurance fraud, welfare cheating and shoplifting. They also excel at "store diversions" in which one family member creates a noisy scene while others empty the cash registers. This scheme netted $42,000 from one Chicago supermarket and has been used all over the country.

But these are the most tragic stories:

• A wheelchair-bound dialysis patient in Pinellas County found his house safe missing after gypsies "worked" on his roof.

• A wealthy 84-year-old widow in Houston was fleeced of $367,000 by Irish travelers who did only $2,500 worth of home repairs over 22 months. Police say the families passed the widow's name from one group to another because she was such an easy mark.

• Four gypsy women traveling through southern Ontario stole more than $500,000 from senior citizens during a three-month crime spree.

It's easy to dismiss the victims as gullible fools, but older folks are often intimidated into paying even if they don't want to. Commonly, gypsy roofers do the "work" first (usually a quick spray of useless paint), then demand an outrageous fee. If the victim balks, the clan members protest loudly and traipse through the home, searching for cash.

The "marks" are selected carefully. Almost always they are old, frail and alone. Because of failing eyesight or weak memories, they make poor witnesses in court. Humiliation and embarrassment discourage many victims from prosecuting. An 84-year-old widow who lost $44,000 in a gypsy burglary wanted to report the theft as only $100—she was afraid her relatives would put her in a nursing home if they learned the truth.

Miami officer Charlie Taylor, who specializes in tracking gypsy and traveler families: "When you talk to an old woman who's lost her entire life savings, it breaks your heart. What do you say to console her?"

Now is the season when the gypsies and traveler families start north, but police say they'll be back. Florida has been very good to them.

Without changes, nursing home neglect will occur

December 3, 1992


Imagine the scandal if 10 small children died, one by one, at the same day-care center.

The press would swarm like hornets, indictments would rain, and the dump would be nailed shut forever. Which is exactly what should happen.

It's different, though, when the dead are not so young.

A recent series in this newspaper exposed an appalling pattern of abuse, neglect and mysterious fatalities at state institutions, nursing homes and boarding homes. The victims were not babies but adults—the weak, the poor, the disabled, the elderly, the mentally impaired.

At one North Dade facility, the Landmark Learning Center, at least 10 patients have died under suspicious circumstances during recent years.

Among the casualties was a retarded paraplegic named Richard Daniels, killed by a blow to the abdomen. In some places that's called murder.

No one has been arrested for Daniels' death. Landmark claims he suffered the fatal injury by falling against the arm of his wheelchair—an explanation not embraced by the family, police or medical examiners. Meanwhile, Landmark remains open.

Administrator Ulysses Davis, who was temporarily relieved of command this week, said his facility had made no mistakes in treating patients, but added (in the understatement of the century): "There's always room for improvement."

More often it's not violence but pure neglect that kills. Earlier this year, a 48-year-old retarded woman died of a bowel obstruction that, according to investigators, wasn't noticed or properly treated by Landmark health workers. Another case: A 27-year-old woman died, riddled with cancer that Landmark doctors somehow failed to discern. Another: An epileptic patient died after a seizure on the floor; Landmark workers said they thought he was only taking a nap.

Unfortunately, such horror stories aren't uncommon. Across the state, old and disabled patients have been found half-starved, consumed by bedsores, crippled by undiagnosed bone fractures. Time and again nothing happens. Nothing changes.

Responsibility is tangled among too many state agencies. Weak laws make it hard to prosecute adult abuse cases, and harder still to shut down shabby nursing homes. Health-care workers, grossly underpaid and sometimes undertrained, are frequently reluctant to report patient abuse for fear of losing their jobs.The system is perfectly designed to perpetuate itself.

Right now, in the great state of Florida, a guy who kicks a dog stands a better chance of going to jail than someone who slugs an invalid in a nursing home.

People moved out of sight are also moved out of our consciousness. Often they are as helpless as children, as trusting as kittens. Yet it's almost as if, because they're grown-ups (not cuddly babies), their deaths are not so tragic or important.

True, people die every day in nursing homes. If it happens to your grandmother or grandfather, you pray that the end was peaceful and natural, that they weren't punched or starved or ignored to death. Because if they were, you stand little chance of getting the truth and virtually no chance of getting justice.

Government tends to react the way society does, with emotions deciding our priorities. When a child under HRS supervision is tortured by a monstrous parent, the reaction is an appropriate convulsion of outrage and cries for dramatic reform.

The death of Richard Daniels, age 43, is no less sickening. And he is but one of the forgotten.

That's why the case of Landmark Learning Center is so disgraceful. With the same track record, a day-care center would've been boarded up a long time ago.

For that matter, so would a kennel.

English-only repeal won't impose Spanish

May 16, 1993


Dade's so-called English-only ordinance will probably be repealed this week. The sky won't fall. The earth won't quake. And the Metro commission won't start conducting its meetings in Spanish.

Yet many will call it a sad day when the law is scrapped. Some warn that its repeal will legitimize ethnic separatism, dual languages dividing dual cultures. But if the English-only law was (as supporters insist) meant to unify Dade, it was a flop.

The ordinance was passed overwhelmingly in 1980 as native entrenchment against a tidal wave of foreign-speaking immigrants: All government meetings and publications were to be in English. So there!

Well, guess what happened in the next 12 years. Hispanics became a majority in Dade. The county's politics, culture and economy transformed—and plenty of folks didn't like it. Thousands packed up and left for Lake City or Ocala. They're still leaving, and it's understandable. Watching one's hometown change so radically is tough, confusing and often painful. Getting out is one solution.

Not all who stayed have adjusted easily. Some of us crackers won't ever get used to hearing Spanish at McDonald's. How come them people don't learn to speak American? In moments of impatience, I've had similar grouchy thoughts.

Then I remember all the money this newspaper spent trying to get some Spanish into my skull, with minimal results. Someone as linguistically stunted as myself is in no position to lecture anybody about learning a second tongue.

The message of the English-only law is that those who come to this country should adopt our language. That sounds fair, but the reality of mass immigration is another story ...

Today, 57 percent of Dade residents speak something other than English at home. All those people are touched by government and need to be well-informed. As a practical matter, it would be irresponsible—no, idiotic—to neglect the thousands who haven't yet learned English, or can't. Societies that exclude people pay a terrible price, as we know firsthand.

Judging from the hysteria, some seem to think abolishing English-only is equivalent to imposing Spanish-only. That's absurd. The official language of Dade will always be English. We don't need a law saying so.

The ordinance is a relic of Anglo defiance that offends many Hispanics, bilingual or not. Citizens of Dade United says it's simply intended to save taxpayers money. Yet there's no mistaking the resentment from CODU's Enos Schera, who told the New York Times: "They have already established another Cuba inside Dade County, and now they are forcing Spanish down our throats."

Nobody's forcing Spanish down mine, nor would I force English down theirs. You can't. Assimilation happens at its own pace—and, believe it or not, it is happening here.

Bob Joffe, a well-known pollster, writes that "Spanish is dying among Hispanic voters" in Dade. What he means is that bilingualism is rising significantly. More than half of foreign-born Hispanic voters surveyed said they didn't care if they were interviewed in English or Spanish.

Such increasing fluency suggests that, 20 years from now, language won't be such a burning issue. Let's hope not, because it's the least of our troubles. Runaway growth, runaway crime, the water crisis, government waste—you want something heavy to worry about, take your pick.

Find people who can solve those problems, and it won't matter if they speak English, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. We'll find an interpreter. It's not the language that counts, it's the ideas.

Safe parks act worthy of a vote

October 27, 1996


In a political season that can charitably be described as uninspiring, there is actually something worth voting for.

It's called the Safe Neighborhood Parks Act, one of the most promising crime-fighting ideas to reach a ballot in Dade County.

It won't build a single new prison cell, or put one more police officer on the beat. What it might do is take thousands of at-risk kids off the street and give them places to play.

Working with the nationally recognized Trust for Public Land, a grassroots citizens' coalition proposes to raise $200 million for improving about 170 county and neighborhood parks.

The money would come from a sale of general obligation bonds. Cost to the average Dade property owner: about $8 a year. "The price of a pizza," says Hank Adorno, a former prosecutor who is helping to lead the campaign.

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and others believe the Safe Parks Act will cut juvenile crime, which is exploding in Dade at a chilling, almost inconceivable pace. They say more kids can be saved if they've got somewhere else to go, and something else to do.

No matter where you live, the parks program would touch your family: in Northwest Dade, soccer and softball fields at Amelia Earhart; in the Grove, refurbishment of the Virrick Gym; in South Dade, lights for the athletic field at Benito Juarez.

There's also money for the Haulover pier, the Crandon beaches, the campground at Greynolds and select purchases of open and threatened green space.

Each project is described on the Nov. 5 ballot—reading through the list would be worth a few minutes of your time.

It sounds almost too good to be true. And if you've been reading the headlines the last few months, the obvious question is: How much of the $200 million really will go to the parks, and how much will be diverted or stolen?

Says Adorno: "I think we've made it politician-proof."

The ordinance provides that the bond money can be used only for capital projects, not for operating costs, debts or exigencies. If a municipality doesn't budget enough funds to maintain a park, it won't receive anything for improvements.

An oversight committee of citizens will be appointed by the Metro Commission, to make sure that the monies are spent only on voter-approved projects, and that beachfront cabanas don't get priority over inner-city gyms.

The ordinance also calls for independent audits, and allows taxpayers to sue if the park funds are misused or ripped off.

That's not to say every penny will be safe from thieves and incompetents. It is Dade County, after all. The program is doomed without keen-eyed, fair-handed supervision.

But strong, overriding arguments favor the parks bond. First, it's been done before successfully, almost 25 years ago. A result was Tamiami Park, Tropical Park and Metrozoo, three of the county's most popular recreation sites.

Second, something tangible must be done for a generation of restless urban kids who are, in shocking numbers, turning to crime and gangs. The cost to taxpayers of incarcerating just one is $40,000 a year. The tab for a career felon is stratospheric.

So the Safe Neighborhood Parks Act becomes a community investment, as well as an act of faith.

Of course the juvenile crisis is too complex to be solved simply by lighting a basketball court or building a swimming pool. But if it keeps one kid off the street corners and out of trouble, that's a pretty good start.

Easily worth the price of a pizza.
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