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Sunday November 23rd 2014

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Miami Gardens tackles its 25 homicides in 2012

Painted Pony 2
Pensacola and its population of 52,197 has had one homicide since the first of the year- the 18-year-old that was beaten in Morris Court and later was taken off life support. It was the third violent crime in the city’s Morris Court neighborhood in less than four weeks, the second resulting in death.

Miami Gardens, with a population of 109,660, has had three killings since Jan 1, 2013. We know that the city of Pensacola has a high murder rate = 1.34 per 10,000 in 2012. Miami Gardens’ rate is higher –2.27–but not by that much.

The Miami Herald reports that Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, city leaders and ministers aren’t sitting on the sidelines and simply calling the killings a law enforcement issue.

“We won’t allow an entire community of people to be identified by the horrible actions of a small minority of people,” Mayor Gilbert told the Herald.

Miami Gardens’ ministers have called for an end to the violence at a press conference, police hosted meetings with local crime watch groups and at an all-night prayer vigil last month, pastors and city leaders memorialized the victims killed in the city last year.

Residents and city officials point to several reasons for the violence, none of which are specific to Miami Gardens. One council member put the blame on neighborhood gangs. Others say inadequate education, misguided youth, community apathy and a breakdown of the black family structure have contributed to the problem

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

But what stuck out to me was that city’s mayor and leaders were openly talking about the problem and the several aspects of the community were speaking out and working together to end the violence.

What have we have gotten from Pensacola city leadership? The bungling of an appointment to a county committee, firing of an ad agency that has possibly ethical issues with another client, an upcoming council rules workshop and a mayor trying to convince the county to pick the up tab for luring a new employer to the airport area for which he can take credit.

Crime, homicides and assaults with deadly weapons? No leadership.

I am hearing that several of the African-American ministers are joining forces to be more pro-active, but little from Pensacola City Hall. Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn held last week a town hall meeting at A.A Dixon charter school, which is near Morris Court. The mayor and other city officials, except for the head of parks & recreation, didn’t attended.

Oh, the city council did ask Police Chief Simmons to give an impromptu report on crime at a recent meeting.

Imagine if Councilman Brian Spencer fought for his black constituents as hard he does for his upscale vision of downtown Pensacola; or Charles Bare (at-large councilman) as hard as he fights for increasing council power; or Megan Pratt (at-large councilwoman) for a downtown charter school for Aragon…or if Mayor Hayward actually walked through the black neighborhoods, met the people who elected him in 2010 and listened to their fears and concerns.

Having spent a great deal of time in the African-American neighborhoods over the last few months, I have listened to the frustrations, pain and fear that many good people living there are feeling. I’ve been amazed how the white elected officials have virtually ignored the problems, even as the crimes escalate. There aren’t any magic solutions, but sometimes just listening and showing empathy can go a long way in reassuring people.

There are no photo ops, grand press announcements or big headlines associated with such fundamentals of public service–which may be why Mayor Hayward and the white council members shy away. The citizens of Pensacola–particularly those in the poorer neighborhoods on the west side of town– need to hear from them and know that they care.

Until then, the calliope music will continue to play at city hall.