To the people on Northwest Second Avenue — some sleeping on sidewalks, others huddled outside their apartments — Corine Bradley’s Overtown market is a neighborhood pillar.
For the past 48 years, the squat store with no air conditioning and a water-damaged floor has served as a second home for many in the low-income, mostly black Miami neighborhood, a place to watch sports, buy snacks or play pinball.
“The police used to eat here,” says Bradley, 74, who has photos of cops on the walls.
Then the police started arresting her customers. The cameras came up. The signs followed.
“Warning. Security Cameras In Use.”
To the city of Miami’s Nuisance Abatement Board, Bradley’s Market, a convenience store at 1139 NW Second Ave., is a festering hot bed for heroin and crack cocaine sales, one that requires 24-hour police surveillance and a no-trespass sign. The city points to a two-month span in the summer of 2016, when police made nine drug-related arrests outside the store.
Although the arrests never led to convictions — six of them stemmed from the actions of one suspected drug dealer over a span of 34 minutes — the city deemed the store a nuisance property in September 2016. The board threatened to fine Bradley if she did not buy and install a security camera allowing “uninterupted remote live-feed access” to the Miami Police Department, agree to meet with police every month and let officers kick out loitering customers from her store.
Three cameras are up now — one inside her store, two outside — but Bradley refuses to let cops have access to them, a move that has cost her at least $2,000 in fines. She takes issue with police intimidating her customers. It’s a violation of privacy and of her right to conduct business, she argues. None of the crimes happened on her property, she adds in a calm, but troubled, voice.
“It’s not right,” she said, her voice growing urgent. “I hope they’ll just leave me alone.”
Across the street from quickly rising commercial buildings — in a neighborhood some locals fear is becoming gentrified — Bradley believes the city wants her out. Since April, she’s been locked in federal court with the city. The board’s “overreaching” demands violate her Fourth Amendment rights against warrantless searches and her freedom from government limiting the use of her property, her court filings argue.
Her attorney, Hilton Napoleon, said he chose to file in federal court instead of state court because he believes constitutional issues require federal oversight.
Napoleon’s lawsuit argues the overarching threat to arrest or remove customers has caused “irreparable economic harm” to Bradley’s business, which has been in operation since 1969, when she used to serve up home-made chicken perlo and pester neighborhood kids to do their homework.
Earlier this month, Napoleon filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the city. The city quickly moved to dismiss. U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia Otazo Reyes will make a recommendation to U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles, who is presiding over the case.
Bradley retired from the day-to-day management of the store in 2008, when her husband Harry died.
Her son Bernard, 50, runs things now, but mom still pays overhead. She fears the store may be forced to shut its doors because the police presence has deterred customers.
“If police don’t stop harassing me and harassing my customers, it may come to that,” she said.
Bradley said a dip in traffic, along with the cost of buying, installing and maintaining four lights and three security cameras, are adding to the stress.
According to the nuisance board’s policy, a property can be deemed a nuisance under one of five conditions, including if the property has been used “on more than two occasions within a six-month period, as the site of the unlawful sale, delivery, manufacture, or cultivation of any controlled substance.” The board does not take into account the lack of convictions.
Other properties in the area are currently under police monitoring, but an attorney for the board would not say how many.
Napoleon has objected to the notion that Bradley has a duty to enforce laws on a stretch of sidewalk in front of her store.
“Ms. Bradley has no legal duty to remove anyone standing on a public sidewalk to ‘abate’ drug sales,” “It is rather ironic for the Board to demand that Bradley, a senior citizen, do something that the MPD has failed to do itself.”
Bradley said she understands the neighborhood has been ravaged by drugs — at least 31 people died in the area from heroin or fentanyl overdoses between September 2015 and December 2016 — but she says she isn’t the problem. If anything, time spent as the matriarch of the neighborhood, and as a youth counselor, have helped turn kids away from substance abuse, she said.
“I’m not condoning no drugs or nothing,” she said. “Drugs have been here since I got here.”
In a court motion, the city argues that the 24-hour feed to police would not violate Bradley’s personal rights because it would only monitor the outside of her store, and businesses do not have an expectation of privacy.
Among the board members, however, there seems to be some disagreement.
“You don’t like big brother? I know, we understand that,” said board member Frank Pichel in February. He was speaking to Napoleon and Bradley during a public meeting. “But you know what? In every other scenario, situation, that has been a major tool. And that’s what we want to do, is end the problem.”
Vice Chair Eddie Moralejo questioned the effectiveness of giving police access to the cameras.
“The criminals outside don’t know that the camera’s not connected to the police, so what good does it do? I don’t know,” he said.
Bradley, who lives in Miami Gardens, said she has been taking her mind off the case by spending her time going to United Methodist Church every Sunday, leading a bible study on Tuesdays and advising young people in the neighborhood whenever they ask.
Through it all, she says, her faith has kept her sane.
“I believe, no matter what, God is gonna work it out,” she said.
Hers son, in a booming voice, put it more bluntly.
“We not going anywhere.”