Aftermath
6:57 pm
Tue August 12, 2014

Miami Police Frustrated By No-Snitching Culture In Liberty City

Children play in the Liberty Square Housing projects. Police says the projects are at the epicenter of Liberty City's gang problem.
Credit Nadege Green / WLRN

Historically, Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood has had a dicey relationship with police. It's where the McDuffie race riots erupted in the 1980s.

In recent years, questionable police shootings further complicated community relations. And a prevalent no-snitch culture means few witnesses will cooperate with police.

“One of the things that we were not blessed with being law enforcement officers was a crystal ball,” says Commander Dana Carr who oversees patrol in Liberty City.

She was called to the scene of the June 24 mass shooting after two men sprayed a crowd with gunfire from an AK- 47 and an AR-15.

The shooting happened across the street from the Pork N Beans, formally known as the Liberty Square housing projects.

Seven people were injured. Two died.

There were at least a dozen witnesses, but police were met with silence, a common issue in the neighborhood.

“I don’t understand how you can know who can get out and shoot that large amount of people and not be upset to say, ‘I’m going to put that person in jail.’”

A teddy bear memorial at the scene of the June 24 mass shooting where seven were injured and two killed in Liberty City.
Credit Nadege Green / WLRN

Five years ago, there was another mass shooting in Liberty City. Again, seven people were shot. Two died.

A suspect was arrested, but the case was dropped. Witnesses would not cooperate.  

Much of the violence that vexes the Liberty City neighborhood is in and around the Pork N Beans projects.

“The problem that we face in there is we have an ongoing war with some gangs. So that is very, very challenging when they’re based in that particular grid,” says Carr.

Around the projects are clusters of  sad stuffed animals, their once-vibrant colors faded. Candles, empty liquor bottles or crosses anchor makeshift displays.

If you see one, it means someone died there.

Last year, Vicky Hemingway’s son Larry Valentine confronted a man about stealing the family’s motorcycles from their Liberty City home.

Later, the man came back with a gun.

“The guy came back and shot him, shot the house up 68 or, like, 74 times,” she says. “After the shooting was over, I called for him because he was outside. He ran in the house and he ran up to me and he said, ‘Mama I’ve been shot.’”

Valentine did not survive. He was 23.  His murder remains unsolved.

Hemingway says her neighbors know who killed her son.

VIcky Hemingway wears a memorial t-shirt of her son Larry Valentine at a Liberty City anti-violence protest. He was 23 when he was murdered in front of their home.
Credit Nadege Green / WLRN

“Everybody calls me Auntie Vicky because everybody know me. It’s sad that no one has come and said a thing about it, about who did it,” she says.

Larry Fulton lives one block away from where the mass shooting happened. He says there are too many murders in the neighborhood. 

He points to a wilted display of teddy bears near a staircase.

“All around these sidewalks nothing but makeshift graves,” he says.

Solutions don’t come easy on how to improve the Pork N Beans and the areas around it.

But the residents, police and city leaders all agree it will take the community to stand up against the perpetrators for the killings to stop.

Commander Carr says the mass shooting in June was so horrific, perhaps it may be the one to convince the community that they should cooperate and share tips with the police.

She says maybe something positive will come of one the worst mass shooting in Miami’s history.

“Because we see what not being able to put bad people in jail can do,” she says. “It just to me, breeds brazenness.”

This story is the second installment of the series "Aftermath: Beyond the Bullets in Liberty City," which looks at the inner-city Miami neighborhood after deadly shootings.