I stopped to see the roadside memorial for Zay Solomon and Fari West. You know. The impromptu shrine of votive candles, scribbled notes, teddy bears and other stuffed animals — all too common in northwest Miami-Dade — marking a bloody patch where gun violence took out another kid. And another.
Six young people were hit on Aug. 27. Drive-by shooters raked the crowd milling outside a weary house in a weary neighborhood. Four survived. Isaiah “Zay” Solomon, 15, and Safari “Fari” West, 22, were killed. Who knows if they were the intended targets? These streets are suffering an epidemic of unintended gunshot victims. Teenagers, and children younger than teenagers, have become collateral damage in these petty wars.
The victims were at a wake remembering Devonair Blake, just 19, killed three weeks ago, shot 13 times after a failed armed-robbery attempt. South Florida’s preoccupation with the spread of Zika seems wildly disproportionate as gun violence spreads through these neighborhoods like a murderous disease.
But something seemed amiss about that makeshift memorial. The animal dolls were weathered and musty. The pinks and blues had faded to beige. After a moment of confusion, I realized I had misread the address and stumbled onto the scene of an old shooting. This was the wrong street, the wrong memorial, the wrong murder.
It’s an easy mistake to make in a community so beset with gun violence. “Bullets go flying everywhere around here,” said Jewell Mosley, 17, with a small child in tow. “You can get killed just standing on your porch, minding your own damn business.”
My colleague David Smiley reviewed data accumulated through ShotSpotter, a high tech gunfire-detection system installed by Miami police, and reported that an astounding 8,280 shots were detected from March 2015 to March 2016. Most of those were fired in three Miami neighborhoods: Liberty City, Overtown and Little Haiti. At least nine incidents were recorded with 30 or more gun shots each. And county police know that life is no less harrowing in the unincorporated neighborhoods north of Liberty City. Compare those swarms of bullets to the threat of Zika mosquitoes that has South Florida in such a panic.
Wild-shooting gangbangers are gunning for one another and too many nearby children are catching errant bullets. Little King Carter, age 6, was the youngest child killed this year when he was trapped in a crossfire. Tequila Forshee, 12, was killed when teenage gang members opened fire on her house. When gunmen killed 18-year-old Trammell Raymond Jr., in Liberty City, stray bullets wounded two children, 12 and 13, inside a nearby house.
Ten years ago, Sherdavia Jenkins, just 9, was struck by a bullet from an AK-47 assault rifle during a gang shootout. Sherdavia’s shocking death was supposed to galvanize a community sick of gun violence. But a decade later, it’s more like we’ve become benumbed by news of slaughtered youth. Smiley reported that more than 60 children and teens (including two babies) were shot in Miami-Dade County in 2015. And 2016 may be running up an even more gruesome total.
Hardly a day had passed before the outrage of the mass shooting at the Saturday wake had been superseded by another horror: On Sunday, a drive-by shooter opened fire on James Page, 32, outside his northwest Miami-Dade home. Page was wounded, but an apparently errant shot struck his 8-year-old daughter, Jada, in the head. She died Tuesday.
A day later, Miami-Dade Police Officers Linda Rowe and E. Wade were stopping cars coming in and out of the neighborhood where Jada was shot and handing out fliers that featured photos of the smiling child. “Seeking homicide information,” the flier said, adding contact information and notice of a $25,000 reward.
The two cops had been out there for five hours. “We’ve got to do everything we can for that little girl,” Rowe said.
A block away, a 60-year-old man who would only give his name as Willie was arranging the haphazard collection of stuffed animals outside the home where the little girl was shot. “I had been walking back from the store on Saturday,” he said, nodding toward the La Espanola Supermarket a block away. “I saw this black car driving by. Coming slow. Guy’s arm was out the window pointing a gun. I could see it wasn’t an automatic. It was a revolver. A .32 or .38,” he said with the kind of knowledge that comes with life in northwest Miami-Dade. “I heard four shots.”
Willie said that he was so stunned by the burst of gunfire, “I didn’t even think to get the license number.”
“This is just so bad. I knew that child,” he said. “If I had crossed the street to say hello, I would have been in the line of fire, too. These killers don’t care who they shoot.”