It’s a testament to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. that so many local residents show up to Miami-Dade’s annual parade and celebration in his honor.
But it’s also an infuriating tragedy that attending the celebration has become for attendees a matter of life and death — proven again on Monday.
Five children and three adults — were shot in a park named in King’s honor following the popular parade. Chaos erupted, everyone ran for cover. Victims were driven to the hospital by friends and family, as ambulances could not get to them right away.
On Tuesday, a clearly angry Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez confirmed that those bullets were fired as part of a gang war. To jar loose information about the shooters, a reward has been upped to $21,000 for tips leading to arrests of the gunmen, he said.
“Enough is enough,” he said of the gun violence that has gripped inner cities here and across the country. “Tell us who did it,” the director asked the public.
Even U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, in town to speak to students, pleaded: “Put your guns down!”
These ardent pleas have echoed those over the years from grieving parents and outraged members of the communities where youth violence has hit the hardest — and where telling the police what you know can also get you killed. These gang members are armed, and if they’re not afraid to shoot a child who gets in the way of an intended target, then they have absolutely no fear of killing anyone who tries to do the right thing.
As the Editorial Board has said in the past, the residents need protection. They need to know that they can speak up in safety. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office has the mechanism in place, but residents must believe that it will work. It’s another matter of life and death.
It’s not the first time the MLK Day celebration has been marred by violence in Miami. Twenty years ago, Rickia Isaac, 5, was fatally wounded as she walked home from the parade, hit by stray bullet fired by feuding gunmen. Every year since, her uncle Jerome Starling has issued a public plea before the parade for an end to gun violence.
“For 20 years we’ve pleaded for the community to put down its guns,” Starling said at the latest outbreak of shooting.
While the shooting was under way, scores of ATV riders took to Miami-Dade and Broward streets as part of the Wheel Up, Guns Down campaign, causing their own kind of panic on the roadways. Two riders were killed in separate traffic accidents as they zipped in and out of traffic; 36 riders were arrested and more than 70 ATVs were confiscated. Who won? The towing companies who charged riders about $175 to reclaim each vehicle.
All this on a day to mark Dr. King’s memory. It’s so hard to comprehend that people with beefs would choose a parade to honor this American icon to settle a score.
Stunned by the violence, county officials, led by Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, held a news conference at the park on Tuesday to announce the enhanced reward.
“To end the MLK festivities with gun violence is a dishonor to the memory of our country’s most well-known peaceful freedom fighter and leaves a blemish on our community.”
She’s right. It’s tragic and an embarrassment.
And to end the festivities altogether, as some have suggested, would let the wrong people claim victory.