Miami-Dade County

'We want you to be around for the Fifth of July': Officials warn about holiday gunfire

The Rev. Jerome Starling and officials from Miami and neighboring cities gathered in Legion Park for a press conference to discourage the use of firearms during the Fourth of July celebrations.
The Rev. Jerome Starling and officials from Miami and neighboring cities gathered in Legion Park for a press conference to discourage the use of firearms during the Fourth of July celebrations. jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Every July 4th, Ibo Richards can hear the sound of gunfire join the crackle of fireworks near his Morningside home.

Richards used to be part of the revelry, commemorating the holiday by adding his own celebratory gunfire to the cacophony of pyrotechnics.

But, in 2008, his 19-year old brother-in-law, Renel Escarment, was shot 10 times and killed in an Independence Day brawl.

Now the holiday has soured for him, as has shooting as a way to celebrate. He calls restraining from firing into the air “common sense.”

Still, Richards says, when he was younger, he “never thought about” where the bullet would land.

The Rev. Jerome Starling has. In 1997, Starling was making his way back from the Miami Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade with his 5-year-old niece, Rickia Isaac, when she was killed by a stray bullet to her forehead.

Every year since, Starling has held a press conference before New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July, imploring revelers to celebrate with fireworks — not gunfire.

“He never stops,” says Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, a Miami-Dade School Board member. But, she says, “It’s almost as if nobody's listening.”

Bendross-Mindingall, Sterling, Richards and others gathered at Monday’s news conference to drive home a fundamental law of physics to their audience: “What goes up will always go down,” says Miami Gardens Police Maj. Robin Starks.

But the physics lesson is slow in catching on. Starling says he still hears gunshots piercing through the fireworks every Independence Day.

“It takes 21 years of begging and pleading,” said Starling. “I have to continue to bury them.”

Bendross-Mindingall says children like Starling's niece are at especially high risk of getting grazed by a stray bullet because of their proclivity for playing outside. During Monday’s conference at Legion Park, 6447 NE Seventh Ave. in Miami, she pointed to the dozens of kids monkeying on the playground around her.

“We should never ever want to quiet those voices,” she says. “Children should not have to hide home on holidays.”

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