Black com­mu­nity drown­ing in gun­fire ques­tions Park­land re­ply

South Florida Times - - NATION - By DAVID SMI­LEY Mi­ami Her­ald

WEST PARK, Fla. (AP) In a dif­fer­ent con­text, Shevrin Jones might have sounded like a spokesman for the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion. Just two days af­ter hun­dreds of Park­land fam­i­lies cheered on Florida's new gun re­stric­tions, the West Park Demo­crat stood in front of nod­ding par­ents and chil­dren in a rec cen­ter and called the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School Pub­lic Safety Act deeply flawed. Af­ter all, what good are ex­tended wait­ing pe­ri­ods to South Florida's mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties when the shoot­ers who ter­ror­ize their neigh­bor­hoods are of­ten steal­ing weapons and buy­ing them on the street?

“Our com­mu­ni­ties don't care about whether you do a back­ground check,'' said Jones, a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive. “Be­cause we're not go­ing to the store to buy a gun. We're go­ing to buy them il­le­gally.''

As South Florida law­mak­ers hosted a se­ries of town hall events co­or­di­nated across the coun­try in the hopes of fur­ther­ing a re­newed gun con­trol move­ment, the tenor and tone of the gath­er­ings - much like their re­la­tion­ship with guns - has var­ied from com­mu­nity to com­mu­nity. Less than 30 miles and 48 hours apart, events near Park­land and in Mi­ami Gar­dens il­lus­trated just how com­plex the prob­lem of gun vi­o­lence is, and why an­swers have been so elu­sive even among com­mu­ni­ties sup­port­ing the same party.

In ma­jor­ity-white Park­land, where mur­ders were rare un­til a Fe­bru­ary school shoot­ing shat­tered the ve­neer of Florida's “safest city'' and thrust it into the na­tional spot­light, so­lu­tions of­fered dur­ing a April 2 town hall hosted by U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch in­cluded ban­ning as­sault weapons and im­prov­ing men­tal health screen­ings and ser­vices. And for all the tragedy of the mas­sacre at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School, the be­lief and hope that fed­eral and state politi­cians will pass new, ef­fec­tive laws was pal­pa­ble.

“We're here be­cause the brave fam­i­lies who lost loved ones in Stone­man Dou­glas have stood up and through their courage have set ex­am­ples for the rest of us in all of the ways that we should be look­ing to keep our schools safe and to pre­vent some­thing like this from ever hap­pen­ing again,'' Deutch said from a stage in­side a Coral Springs per­form­ing arts cen­ter with sta­dium seat­ing and pro­fes­sional light­ing and sound.

In Mi­ami Gar­dens, where the neigh­bor­hood around the Betty T. Fer­gu­son Recre­ational Com­plex is 85 per­cent black and gun­fire is mapped in real time, a sim­i­lar op­ti­mism ex­ists. But at the April 4 town hall hosted by U.S. Rep. Fred­er­ica Wil­son - where the mi­cro­phones kept cut­ting out - hope min­gled with frus­tra­tion. Here, moth­ers with dead chil­dren and broth­ers with slain sib­lings have been ac­tivists for years. Here, they won­dered why the 22- peo­ple mur­dered in 2016 in the city mat­tered less to the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about guns than the 17 peo­ple killed in Park­land.

Ideas on how to fix the prob­lem felt dif­fer­ent, too, with co-host Jones ar­gu­ing not for more gun con­trol but for bet­ter af­ter-school ser­vices, so­cial pro­gram­ming and small-busi­ness loans as a way to make Mi­ami's “ur­ban core'' and schools safer.

“The peo­ple who see gun vi­o­lence on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-tomonth re­al­ity, they can't ride this wave. Be­cause for decades they've been drown­ing in the re­al­ity,'' said Mi­ami-Dade School Board mem­ber Steve Gal­lon.

The dif­fer­ences aren't lost on the politi­cians and newly born gun ac­tivists in North Broward, an af­flu­ent, ma­jor­ity-white area where mur­ders re­main in­fre­quent de­spite the Feb. 14 high school shoot­ing. The stu­dents be­hind the March For Our Lives move­ment have con­sciously reached out to teenagers in mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties to broaden their cause. Dur­ing the April 2 town hall, sev­eral stu­dents asked how law en­force­ment and schools of­fi­cials can en­sure that black and brown stu­dents won't be pro­filed as com­mu­ni­ties in­crease se­cu­rity mea­sures and po­lice pres­ence at schools.

State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, who rep­re­sents Park­land and grad­u­ated from Stone­man Dou­glas, men­tioned April 2 that while Park­land's mur­ders re­ceived swift re­sponse, 316 chil­dren and teenagers were killed in Mi­ami-Dade be­tween 2006 and 2016 with scant at­ten­tion in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles.

It's a dis­cus­sion that is nu­anced, and hardly blackand-white. But while both com­mu­ni­ties vote Demo­crat, and elect law­mak­ers at the state and fed­eral level who tend to vote along sim­i­lar lines, their needs and prob­lems are dif­fer­ent. And what works in one neigh­bor­hood may ex­ac­er­bate prob­lems in an­other.

For Jones and Moskowitz, whose desks sit next to each other on the floor of the Florida House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, they know their chal­lenge is to find some­thing that works for ev­ery­one, and to make sure that no one is over­looked.

“Park­land has def­i­nitely started a con­ver­sa­tion, but it's a con­ver­sa­tion many com­mu­ni­ties have been hav­ing for a long time. Those com­mu­ni­ties got no bills. Those com­mu­ni­ties got no ap­pro­pri­a­tions for years,'' Moskowitz said. “So I'm happy things are now chang­ing.''

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