A Tale of Two Cities
The horizon of cranes and high-rises, what the official brochure calls “Downtown Miami’s Spectacular Skyline,” tells a different story than the one pedestrians encounter.
Businesspeople, tourists, and residents run into homeless men and women any way they turn. Some are people who have no choice but to live out on the streets and deserve compassion and help, others evidence the inadequacies of competing bureaucracies that allow people with mental health issues or long rap sheets to roam free causing fear, harm, and even death under the spectacular skyline.
The State of Downtown
On June 3, a group of residents met the Miami Police leadership and other agencies to discuss downtown’s deteriorating safety. One resident indicated that many of the people out on the streets were not homeless but vagrants. He has seen a gentleman pull from the trunk of his car a wheelchair and settle outside the Metromover pan-handling and drinking with pals. Others are just criminals hiding behind the homeless.
Two weeks earlier, a homeless man stabbed two passengers at different Metromover stations. One of the passengers was stabbed on the neck and taken to a Trauma Center in critical condition. That same week, a resident witnessed a woman having sex, and three men standing in line. This open act of prostitution took place at 8 pm on a sidewalk less than a block from four residential towers and Miami Dade College.
Outside the 7-Eleven, NE 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street, pedestrians must jump over drunks sleeping on the sidewalk. More serious are the threats, and aggression. A young mother, a resident of 50 Biscayne, aired her frustration, not being able to push her stroller in peace anywhere in the Central Business District.
“Going up Flagler Street is asking for trouble. All those empty storefronts are magnets for illicit activity and homeless encampments,” wrote another mother who couldn’t attend the meeting because of work.
Where is the police?
The Deputy Police Chief echoed a pitch most people in attendance have heard only a million times: “Downtown was a business enclave, you guys, the residents, are pioneers…” The downtown proper, from the Miami River to the Omni District, has had for years a population comparable to Morning Heights, larger than Edgewater’s and larger than Coconut Grove’s — the darling of our politicians. Not to mention Downtown contributes the biggest share of the tax base for the entire city.
Another officer advised residents, call when you see something, otherwise, there is no record of illicit activity. A Park West resident said he was ran-over by a cyclist and left bleeding at Maurice Ferré Park. He called the police. He left after waiting for half an hour. The incident occurred at 8:30 am. The Police called back around four in the afternoon. The police commander for downtown apologized, that was a fluke, the system wasn’t working…
Here you have a park flanked by two world-class museums, five high-rises across the street, including the architectural jewel 1000 Museum Park, designed by the late Zaha Hadid, yet, said another resident from the same enclave, from one day to the next, the Park’s Management decided to cut off security. Slowly it has turned into the bedroom and bathroom for the homeless. People from all over the world visit Frost Science and PAMM, and take walks admiring the breath-taking beauty of our Biscayne Bay… Now, they also get a glimpse of used toilet paper littering the grounds and shirtless men drinking.
“So,” a City Attorney present at the meeting was asked, “what constitutes a crime?” Under the Pottinger Law (a judge threw out the homeless-protection law but it is being appealed and remains in effect), he explained, a homeless person can sleep, urinate, defecate, and shower right outside any residential building or inside the park. Even nudity is okay, provided it's not lewd behavior. Furthermore, a criminal offense needs to be witnessed by an officer to be a crime. In other words, a vicious circle: crimes need to be witnessed by a police officer, there is no police presence, hence downtown crime statistics glitter.
The meeting took place at the Downtown Development Authority, DDA, organized by the Downtown Neighbors Alliance, DNA. The DNA President ended the meeting observing: If this meeting is not to become another exercise in futility, we need to have accountability. In thirty days we’ll meet again to determine if downtown’s quality of life has improved, taking into account what was discussed today, including more security for Maurice Ferré Park, more police presence on our streets to deter crime. And, because it takes two to tango, residents need to get involved. If more funds are to be budgeted for more officers on the streets, statistics need to support the claims.
“If you see illicit activity, call the non-emergency number 305–579–6111 and report it. Each call becomes a statistic attesting to the urgency for improved safety,” said Amal Solh Kabbani, DNA President. You don’t need to spend an hour filing a complaint, simply call and describe the incident. Downtown needs more officers. Please, ask your commissioners to fight for your safety during the September budget allocation.”
And she added: “It is hard, sometimes it might seem that our patience has reached the breaking point, but one step at a time we can close the gap between Downtown’s spectacular version and the reality on the sidewalks.”
Report non-emergency matters, 305–579–6111. If in danger, dial 911. The Police Commander for downtown wants to be informed directly when residents encounter bad police service by emailing him at email@example.com