When an all-white jury in Tampa acquitted four Dade County police officers in the beating death of Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance agent, on May 17, 1980, an uproar ensued.
Riots raged across Miami, with people pouring into streets to protest the verdict for the four white police officers. After three days, 18 people were dead, more than 400 were injured and the property damage exceeded $100 million.
Down on Southwest 64th Street and 59th Place in South Miami, David Walker witnessed two men smashing metal garbage cans on the roof of a police car. When the cops came out of the cruiser and pulled out their guns, the men brandished firearms.
Without taking time to think, Walker ran after them, positioning himself in the middle.
“I knew there was gonna be a big problem,” he said. “I told them, ‘Don’t hurt them officers.’”
After, he received a certificate of appreciation, signed by then South Miami Mayor Jack Block, for his “outstanding service to the residents of South Miami in a time of extreme tensions and strife.”
The act was only the beginning of Walker’s long career of service to South Miami, where he has lived his entire life. Walker, 67, served as a city employee in various roles for nearly 20 years, only stopping when a liver transplant forced him into retirement.
Two weeks ago, South Miami and Miami-Dade County honored him by naming the street he’s lived on for 30 years, SW 63rd Ct., “David E. Walker, Sr. Court.”
“I’ve been halfway around the world,” Walker said. “There ain’t no place in the world I ever been and no place in this country I’ve ever been like South Miami.”
Walker began working for the city as a recreation leader in 1984. A year later, he shifted into code enforcement, working as a troubleshooter for the city manager and later as a code enforcement officer until his retirement in 2000.
In code enforcement, Walker would cite people whose homes or buildings violated city ordinances, following up on complaints filed by neighbors. His work even led him to his father’s front door.
“He had a bunch of junk in the yard and my mother had been asking him to move the stuff out of the yard for years,” he said. “So I went to my father’s house and I said, ‘Hey Pop, you got a complaint.’”
After giving his dad a notice to remove the garbage, he returned the following morning to help him move it, this time as a son.
Walker also once flagged former South Miami Mayor Cathy McCann for building a patio on her septic tank. When she ordered his manager to void the red tag, Walker refused.
“Is she above the law?” Walker recalled asking his director. “He turned red, and looked at me, and he said, ‘No.’ I didn’t get a good review that year.”
But code enforcement wasn’t always about building code violations. Walker also was sent on offhanded missions that veered into animal control, keeping a 5-foot PVC pipe in the trunk of his car. Once, on basically a wild goose chase, Walker was dispatched to catch an angry duck that was attacking residents.
“I went in the truck and got the old PVC pipe out,” he said. “I knocked him down, flipped him over, tied his feet up, and I just picked her up and threw her in the trunk of the car.”
Code enforcement later had to release the duck when they realized they had left her litter of babies without a mother.
Walker also served as a coordinator for the city’s senior citizens meal program, and as a caretaker for the elderly. He ran for city commissioner twice, but lost both times. The second time, he lost by 35 votes.
“I did all right, considering I ran a campaign with nothing,” he said.
Walker also created the city’s Community Relations Board and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Walker led the South Miami CERT — the largest in Florida at the time — to assist Homestead after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In Homestead, Walker fought on behalf of people whose landlords tried to evict them, estimating he saved about 100 people from losing their homes.
Homestead officials even asked Walker to take over their code enforcement department, he said, but he declined.
“I had various offers and opportunities to go to other cities for a lot more money than I was getting paid here,” he said. “But my city needed me here. So I would not go.”
In his spare time, Walker worked with his church, or coached Little League or high school football. He has served in various roles in St. John AME Church in South Miami for 60 years, becoming an ordained minister in 1992. He has three children, and recently lost his wife to cancer in May.
And now? Walker drives for Lyft.
“I took my retirement car,” he said. “My passengers love it because it’s a new car. And it’s comfortable; it’s got all the gadgets in it.”
On July 19, Walker’s friends and family joined city staff, police and Mayor Philip Stoddard in the street-naming ceremony.
Stoddard said that though he took office after Walker retired, he always appreciated Walker’s “straightforward and practical side.” When community and staff members were going back and forth on a project to construct a community pool in South Miami — an effort that went on for 40 years — Walker helped mediate conflicting desires, Stoddard said.
“It was David Walker who got us through the angst and difficulties,” Stoddard said.
“Always been there to help other people out,” Walker said. “To make sure they didn’t get ripped off or overlooked.”