On Wednesday, May 4, 2005, just shy of three months after I had taken the helm of the city of Opa-locka’s Police Department, Melanise Malone, a 5-year-old girl, was killed in the notorious “Triangle” by a stray bullet from drug rivals shooting at each other over territory.
I don’t believe the thugs were ever caught. Eight years prior to that, following Miami’s Martin Luther King’s Parade in 1997, it was 5-year-old Rickia Issac. And on Saturday, Feb. 20, it was little 6-year-old King Carter.
What do these three children have in common? All were black and all were unintended targets. As I sat in yet another community forum seeking solutions on violence in our community, I couldn’t help but think of the state of our community, and that no child should die that way.
But senseless killings is an old story in urban communities. We expect these things in certain neighborhoods so we have become accustomed to them. They happen. The media descends. We march. Police and politicians express outrage, and pledge change. Again.
I vowed that the death of Melanise Malone would not be in vain. We expedited our strategic policing plan and as a result we decreased crime in the Triangle by 50 percent and reduced crime in the city for three straight years with the help of local, state and federal law enforcement partners.
While law enforcement has a role to play, so do the citizens of each community. This includes parental accountability as they set the tone for what will and will not be allowed in their community.
Faith-based organizations are often overlooked when trying to solve problems in our community. No longer can the church be left out or can afford to be left out of the equation. After all issues in our communities aren’t political, they are spiritual. The cord will not be easily broken with law enforcement, the community and the church working together.
James Barry Wright, chief of police (Ret.), Opa-locka