After shooters fired more than 50 bullets, worries mount over public safety in this community

Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·4 min read

Fights. Drug deals. And most recently, a hail of more than 50 bullets shattering a festive atmosphere.

Since 2019, the Fort Lauderdale police have received calls for help 184 times from a community in the northwest part of the city, the scene of last Sunday’s shooting.

The attack in which multiple assailants opened fire on a crowd — wounding a 6-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy, as well as a man — has brought to the surface long-standing crime concerns for the neighborhood by Northwest Eighth Street and 22nd Road.

It’s by the unincorporated neighborhood of Franklin Park and a short walk from Fort Lauderdale’s Sistrunk Boulevard, a major artery in the city’s Black community.

The pace of 911 and non-emergency calls in the neighborhood did not let up during the pandemic, police records show.

The list of service calls include responses to a wide variety of concerns, with most falling into the category of quality-of-life complaints, such as noise disturbances, trespassing and “suspicious persons.” On the more severe end of the spectrum are five shootings, including three this year and one last Dec. 31.

City Commissioner Robert McKinzie, who represents the neighborhood, is calling for a new approach toward helping the troubled neighborhood. He said he has complained for years about policing that focuses on responding to crimes after they’re committed instead of preventing crimes by showing a presence strong enough to deter it.

“We need to have some kind of proactive presence here,” McKinzie said.

A troubled neighborhood

Sunday’s shooting took place in the northwest corridor, a predominantly Black neighborhood with businesses that serve mostly local customers. The Sistrunk corridor and its surrounding neighborhoods have long been the focus of redevelopment and revitalization plans, some of which have been met by resistance from residents wary of gentrification — community improvements that displace the people who live there now.

When the shots rang out, people sought refuge in Tony’s Market, a convenience store just across from the Franklin Park Estates. The three wounded people all are expected to survive. So far, police haven’t announced any arrests or publicly identified any suspects.

A culture of fear has been allowed to flourish in the community due to neglect by the city, said McKinzie, the sole Black member of the five-person Fort Lauderdale City Commission.

“I bet we have 15 or 20 deaths between these stores because of what is taking place in front of these stores,” he said, speaking broadly of shops in the general area. “I been talking till I’m blue in the face about this issue. ... What would be the harm in going into these areas and telling people they can’t loiter? That they have to move along?”

McKinzie said he feels the neighborhood isn’t getting as much attention when compared to other parts of the city, such as the Victoria Park neighborhood, which is relatively affluent and 70% white, and the beachside area, which is the county’s defining tourist attraction.

“This rate of police calls would not be tolerated someplace like the beach or Victoria Park,” he said.

Facing challenges

The policing issues are more complicated than that, said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis.

A heavy police presence greeted as a way to prevent crime could just as easily be seen as an oppressive occupying force in a community that views police with suspicion.

“Some communities feel uncomfortable with that,” Trantalis said. “We do our best to strike a balance between maintaining a presence and being too visible.”

County Commissionar Dale V.C. Holness, who also represents the area, echoed McKinzie’s call for a more community-based policing approach he said is working in nearby unincorporated areas.

“What we have nearby are programs to help people get hired, people who traditionally are what they call ‘hard to hire,’” he said. Those groups include recent veterans, high school dropouts and recently released inmates.

Such training is one aspect of what Holness described as a multifaceted approach to meeting the community’s needs, which also extend to improved infrastructure and better public transportation.

As for the immediate safety concern, businesses along the beach pay for added security, Trantalis said. Businesses in Northwest Fort Lauderdale would have to do the same if they want a more visible police presence. “It takes a community. It takes social pressure,” Trantalis said. “It takes everybody to stand up and say this is not acceptable.”

Both Trantalis and McKinzie agreed on one point — with the number of witnesses to last Sunday’s shooting, the lack of an arrest so far is a sign that no one wants to be seen cooperating with police.

“They’re afraid of retribution,” Trantalis said.

Police are still asking anyone with information about the shooting or shooters to call Broward County Crimes Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS (8477), or Detective Jameson Jones at 954-828-5771.