Miami Dade NAACP hosts gun violence forum at New Way Fellowship
Pictured, l to r: Adora Nweze, Joanna Pace, Robert Parker, Dr. Santarvis Brown, Cathy Burgos and James Hannon.
By Derek Joy
The Miami Dade Branch of the NAACP hosted a gun violence forum at New Way Fellowship Baptist Church to engage the community in finding solutions to a problem that has been especially traumatic for Miami Gardens’ residents of late. Proceeding under the theme, “The Culture of Gun Violence in South Florida: The Public Safety, Social and Business Challenges,” a six member panel moderated by Andre Williams, a real estate attorney, native and former City Councilman in the City of Miami Gardens.
“It’s not the community I remember growing up in,” said Williams. “There was not nearly the level of gun violence then as it is now. I know poverty plays a factor. And people feel desperation. Leadership in the community plays a role. There needs to be a lot more community engagement. Parents in the community need after school programs for kids. People want to get involved in the community but they don’t feel safe.”
One by one, the six panelists offered input and perspective.
Dr. Santarvis Brown, director of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Department of Education; Cathy Burgos, LCSW, division director of operations of Miami Dade Juvenile Services Department and James Hannon, personal injury attorney, Hannon & Boyers, P.A.; Adora Obi Nweze, president, Florida State Conference of Branches, NAACP and president of Miami-Dade Branch, NAACP; Joanna Pace, co-advisor, youth council of the Miami Dade Branch of the NAACP and Robert Parker, former director, Miami-Dade County Police Department.
“The action to fix this dilemma begins when we put the microphones down and walk outside,” said Brown. The problem has been an alarming number of shootings in Miami Gardens. It has been such that Miami Gardens has catapulted to number 14 in murder rates in the country. Its ranking results in a designation as “One of the most dangerous cities in the country,” slightly behind such cities as Newark, N. J., Baltimore, Md., and Little Rock, Ark.
While acknowledging juveniles play a role in the gun violence, Burgos cited a 72-percent drop in the prosecution of juvenile in the last 15 years. Hannon focused on an 11-month period from Jan. to Nov. 2013, in which there were 3,689 violent crimes reported in Miami Gardens. “The residents are victims in their own com-munity,” said Miami Gardens resident Anita Pittman. “The numbers are shocking. I don’t believe it would be tolerated in any other municipality. I’m appalled.”
That sentiment was conveyed by others. So, too, were a number of valid suggestions to begin an all out assault on the problem of gun violence. “Of all the things we do, one of the things we take very seriously is the opportunity to sit down and talk to people about the issues we identified and what to do to address the problems,” said Nweze.
“We need a community effort. Every entity ought to be involved. That means parents, businesses, faith based organizations, social service agencies, the criminal justice system, everybody. That’s how you solve this problem and the culture of schools to prison pipeline.” Parker assessed the problem as one that goes back to when the Framers drafted and ratified the U. S. Constitution with emphasis on the Second Amendment.
“One of the most important things we can talk about in this community is crime. What we’re really talking about is youth. I remind all of us as American citizens we have certain rights.
“One of those rights is the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment was made to keep us safe. It has evolved into something else. More than 60-percent of Americans own and possess guns. “Basically, America is going to be an armed place unless we’re willing to go back and address the Second Amendment. Sixty-seven percent of murders involve guns. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. The greatest problem is people with guns have negative values. And that is where we need to focus.”
Hannon stated, “What a lot of people don’t know is that civil law imposes a duty on landowners and businesses to keep their property safe for tenants and patrons. The law holds businesses and landowners accountable when they don’t keep their premises safe. If more landowners take that seriously you’ll see crime drop dramatically.”
Shirley Gibson, Miami Gardens’ first mayor, offered added perspective.
“As a former police officer and mayor, I have a healthy respect for guns. You never see gun backs in Coral Gables, Sunny Isles, Palmetto Bay and other cities. And they have more guns than we’ll ever have.”
“We need to teach our kids a healthy respect for guns, teach them civility. Some people have absolutely no respect for the police. Civility is something we all need to strive for. But if you really want to make a difference, join the NRA (National Rifle Association). There are no Blacks in there. People can make a difference when they’re ready to make a difference.”