In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: In Miami Gardens, a start in breaking culture of silence

Tequila Forshee’s sweet sparkle, and the ordinariness of what the 12-year-old was doing in her home when she was violently taken from this world by a bullet, have moved a community to action.

Anti-violence walks to reclaim streets. Crime-fighting rallies to stir citizens. Town-hall meetings to put gang violence in front of elected officials and law enforcement.

The heat is on — and it was about time.

People who’ve had enough of the gang-related violence terrorizing Miami Gardens are breaking the culture of silence — the see-nothing, say-nothing attitude that has made some neighborhoods fertile grounds for gangs to strike and thrive.

They’re people like Tequila’s father, Glenn Forshee, who grew up in Miami Gardens and has known about the drug dealing, and about gangs that recruit kids as early as middle school, and he has heard the shootings around the corner. But until he paid the high price of his daughter’s life — shot in the head, the family says, by gunfire meant for a 16-year-old cousin — Forshee would just close his door and ignore the mayhem outside.

Now he’s talking and joining others, like the preachers who have for so long fought from their pulpits by themselves.

It’s a good beginning, but the efforts to quash gang violence require a purposeful, long-term and multifaceted approach, as stories about gang violence by Miami Herald reporter Nadege Green point out.

Gang violence experts will tell you kids are more vulnerable and likely to join when they can’t find at home the belonging and guidance they so desperately need, when they can’t find a purpose in school, when they’re surrounded by so much hopelessness they’re dulled to consequences.

It’s a tall order to break cycles and offer hope, but not impossible.

Miami Gardens police have stepped up efforts, but despite the rallies and tough talk, they still don’t get enough meaningful community support. Not one person, for example, from the dozens of people at Bunche Park, where a child was one of four people shot in 2011, has been willing to come forward.

The lack of involvement is so prevalent that the city installed Shot Spotter technology to alert them when gunshots are fired, partly because residents won’t call police when they hear gunshots. And, insiders tell me, even residents active in Crime Watch who should know better remain silent until violence and death personally affect them.

Politicians too need to be real with the residents of Miami Gardens, Dade’s third-largest city.

Too often when asked about crime, they minimize it, say it’s down and that residents have the wrong perception because of one-sided media reports that focus on violence. At a council meeting, officials handed out a flier boasting about how Miami Gardens has a lower non-violent crime rate than cities like Miami Beach.

This is true.

But while overall crime is down, murders have more than doubled since the city incorporated.

When a girl getting her hair braided by grandma in anticipation of a new school year ends up dead in a hail of bullets, all of Miami Gardens has a murder problem, a gang problem, and a matter of conscience to tackle.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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