Miami-Dade County

Terrorized by spate of gun violence, Liberty City seeks a cease-fire

Latrice Anderson is leaving Liberty City, and she’s taking her dad and 21-year-old son with her.

She’d take her mom, too, but it’s too late for Linda Grant.

The sociable 62-year-old grandmother who waved at passing buses along Martin Luther King Boulevard was killed four months ago when a gunman fired into a small crowd outside the corner store behind the bus stop. The shooting was one of more than two dozen so far this year around the Liberty Square projects, the epicenter of one of Miami’s most violent neighborhoods.

The constant pop of gunfire has both paralyzed and galvanized the surrounding community, spurring anti-violence rallies even while causing what Miami City Commissioner and Liberty City native Keon Hardemon calls “domestic terrorism.” Police, activists, clergy members and a growing army of grieving families are doing what they can to stop the bleeding, and they are calling for peace in an urban war zone.

It won’t come soon enough for some residents.

“We’re moving out. It’s gotten to the point where I feel like we’re in a triangle of warfare,” said Anderson, whose family moved to Liberty City after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when she was about 20. “I don’t feel safe anymore.”

During the first half of the year, gunfire traced a perimeter around Liberty Square, rows of federally subsidized apartments that locals call the Pork and Beans. Down the dusty corridor of markets, salons and churches of Northwest 15th Avenue. Across the mini-marts and shuttered laundromats on 62nd Street. Up Northwest 12th Avenue toward the playing fields of Miami Northwestern Senior High School.

The violence started with a late-night shooting that wounded two men near the Six O Mart less than a block from where Anderson lives and ended with the murder of a pastor across the street from the King Brothers Market, where Grant would chat up customers. In all, police records show at least 43 people were shot, and seven were killed, so far this year.

“I call it mini-Iraq,” said Vincent Asbury, whose son, Marquise Riley-Asbury, was hunted down by two gunmen in May and shot in the head — two months after he survived an attempted hit inside his Liberty Square apartment. “It’s almost like pick a number. When is it your time to get shot?”

Locals in and around “The Beans” say the recent shootings have been excessive even for a neighborhood that has endured decades of gunplay and has grown uncomfortably accustomed to the killing of young black men and women. The bullets have bred as much anger as fear. Police and the community talk about solutions — the Rev. Billy Strange Jr. is organizing a three-night “cease-fire” next month — but that is something that has eluded Liberty City for decades.

Emotions overflowed during recent anti-violence marches through Liberty Square. And again last week in the sanctuary of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church at a forum to discuss curbing inner-city shootings, many of which go unsolved.

It is a problem complicated by the strained relationship between police and black communities. Fear and the stigma against “snitching” can leave investigators without crucial testimony. But some say witnesses do come forward, only to be failed by law enforcement.

Vicky Hemingway stood up at the forum and said the men who one year ago this month shot her son, Larry Valentine, strolled past her home recently, guns in hand. She said people don’t talk because they are scared for their own families.

“They shot my house 74 times,” she said, her voice booming across the sanctuary’s crowded pews. “Those same two boys who shot my son came walking through the park at 53rd Street with their guns out. They wasn’t hiding.”

Sharron Ladson, whose pregnant daughter was murdered two years ago in a Miami Gardens drive-by, said during the forum that Angelese Ladson’s killers may never be caught if no one talks.

“When I look out at all the people here tonight, it troubles me to know that her murderer might be among us here right now,” she said.

The constant violence has had a chilling effect on business as well. Foot Locker and Wingstop have opened stores in recent years, but on the edges of Liberty City. Local joints like Brewton’s Market and Miracles, which cooks up conch fritters on 15th Avenue, have been around forever, but businesses don’t often open in the violence-torn heart of the neighborhood.

Down MLK Boulevard from Mount Calvary, past an abandoned Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mohammad Bashier sits in the back of City Market watching 32 video feeds from his security system. He says business is difficult, though better after Miami police placed an officer outside his business after the murder of 67-year-old Kenneth Johnson. Bashier’s security system captured the July killing, when two young men mugged the pastor after he had gone into the store to use the ATM and pick up a bottle of water.

Across the street at the King Brothers Market, a kitchen counter used to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, but now it’s closed. The owner says the police car has actually scared customers away. Outside, the makeshift memorial of stuffed animals is long gone, but the chipping, deep blue paint on the market is scribbled over with RIP messages to “Moms” — Linda Grant’s nickname. Scrawled in black spray paint on the north façade: “You Will Die.”

A horseshoe is nailed above the doorway. But Charlie, the owner, who won’t give his last name, says he’s not getting any luckier and the neighborhood isn’t getting any safer.

“This area, it’s like complicated codes,” he said. “No one can understand this area, not even the police.”

Even to those hardened by growing up in Liberty City, today’s violence is an enigma. On a sweltering afternoon, Antonio Brinson stopped at the Liberty Square Community Center to grab a muffin from the kitchen, where volunteers were serving hot cooked ziti and chocolate milk to a few kids. He wore a gray jumpsuit and sunglasses to hide a left eye that he said was damaged long ago in a stabbing.

Brinson, who is 42, has also been shot. As a teenager, he served several years in juvenile detention on a manslaughter charge. He said he swore he would change his life. Now he runs a lawn-care business and hires local teens to get them out of the neighborhood for at least a couple of hours. He also coaches a little league football team.

He denounces violence, but Brinson said there was at least a level of respect and reason to shootings when they happened when he was growing up. The man he killed, he said, was attacking his uncle. Today, he says, you may be killed simply for your sneakers, or because you looked at someone the wrong way.

“About 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock, when it gets dark, these streets are like Saigon,” he said.

As he talked, a group of teens who rode over on yellow buses from Miami Northwestern stopped in with principal Wallace Aristide to take a look around. They’re smiling. For the first time last year, the once-failing school was ranked among the best in the state. Outside, there is a brand new ballfield, with an orange clay diamond that almost shines against the dull façades of the surrounding buildings.

Brinson is convinced that things can get better, and will when politicians really want them to. Until then, he says, gangsters will keep shooting, and shooting scared, hitting bystanders like children and the elderly.

Perhaps that’s what happened to Linda Grant. Anderson, her daughter, said police haven’t solved the crime, though she has been told there is a suspect in custody on unrelated charges. She hopes someone will come forward with information about what happened, even if it won’t keep her in Liberty City and it won’t bring back her mother on Sundays to cook comfort food like fried green tomatoes.

“We’re living next door to the murderers. We’re sitting on a porch with them. We’re having a cigarette,” she said. “We need some brave souls here.”

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