In the heart of Liberty Square, mothers were sorting through second-hand clothes and children were riding bicycles when gunfire shattered what had looked to be a much-needed peaceful December afternoon at Miami’s oldest housing project.
Shooters in separate cars sprayed bullets from assault rifles, according to Eric Thompson, a community organizer helping with a Tuesday end-of-year clothing giveaway at the complex. One driver crashed into a light pole, he said. Children and adults went screaming and running in different directions, but no one was shot — or caught.
The chaos of Tuesday afternoon was only the latest in a string of shootings at Liberty Square that, while resulting in no injuries, have spread fear in a community of roughly 600 families. The county-owned housing project off Northwest 62nd Street and 12th Avenue in Liberty City has long experienced gun violence, but even in this hardened community, the latest spate of gunfire has left people shaken.
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“No one has been hurt, but that’s not the point,” said Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. “The point is the people are really scared. They’re shooting at cars, at homes.”
Police could not confirm the number of shootings being investigated and did not provide data requested by the Miami Herald on Wednesday. But Regalado said there have been 10 shootings in 10 days at the project, and city and county police have stepped up patrols while aggressively monitoring security cameras set up around the complex.
No one has been hurt, but that’s not the point. The point is the people are really scared
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado
Still, Miami Police Chief Rudy Llanes said police have yet to determine who is behind the shootings or why they’re happening.
“We don’t know if they’re actually shooting at somebody and missing or if it’s celebratory gunfire. We don’t know the facts behind it because it’s very difficult to get people to speak to you when there’s no actual [victims] involved,” he said.
During a press conference held Wednesday near Liberty Square to warn about shooting guns into the sky on New Year’s Eve, Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson mentioned the problems at Liberty Square and said she’s doing what she can to help. Edmonson, who represents the neighborhood and stopped by Liberty Square after the press conference, said she began receiving calls Tuesday about the shootings.
“It’s gotten to the point where residents are leaving and moving to hotels,” she said, adding later: “Fear has set in now at Liberty Square.”
Thompson, who first raised the alarm about another uptick in shootings at the complex two weeks ago, said bullets have come from all different directions and at different times of the day. He said Tuesday’s shooting continued even as police sirens grew louder, when normally gunmen flee.
“I’m accustomed to shootings,” he said. “But I’ve never seen the whole neighborhood scared.”
Police say they’re doing all they can to make the neighborhood feel safer, but that their measures are stop-gap solutions for a community with a decades-long history of violence. The long-view solution offered by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is a plan to redevelop Liberty Square into a new, safer neighborhood with updated amenities and holistic social services.
It’s gotten to the point where residents are leaving and moving to hotels
County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson
For now, however, that plan is on hold and under a confidential cone of silence as everyone waits for Gimenez to recommend a developer to county commissioners. That wait, held up by politics and legal complications, is now entering its third month since a selection committee reviewed and ranked redevelopment proposals. Edmonson said the shootings this month only heighten the urgency for the mayor to move the project forward.
“It’s time that the mayor makes a recommendation, to ease the anxiety,” she said.