Friday, March 07, 2014

There are no 'dirt-bag' murders

Often assistant city editors, short on space and patience, would insist that I select and report only the “major murder” of the day. I knew what they meant, but I fought the premise. How can you choose?

Every murder is major to the victim.

Sure, it’s simpler to write about only one case and go home. But some strange sense of obligation would not let me do it. The Miami Herald is South Florida’s newspaper of record, and I felt compelled to report every murder, every death on its pages — names, dates, facts — to preserve them in our newspaper, in our files, in our consciousness, on record forever, in black and white. On my days off, or when I worked on other stories or projects, some murders went totally unreported. So I would carefully resurrect them, slipping them into the local section in round-ups, wrap-ups, and trend stories about possibly related cases. There was always a way, you could always find an angle. For instance: Victim number 141 in 1980 proved to be the widower of victim number 330 in 1979.

A bright young reporter I talked to recently casually referred to what he called dirt-bag murders: the cases and the victims not worth reporting. There is no dirt-bag murder. The story is always there waiting to be found if you just dig deep enough.
-Edna Buchanan, The Corpse Had a Familiar Face.


Twenty-three year-old Demetrius Jones was gunned down in broad daylight 
not far from this neighborhood hangout at NW 18th Ave. and 63rd Street.
The Miami Herald never printed one word about his murder.
(Click image to enlarge.)


The King Market in Miami sits across the street from a trash-strewn lot on the corner of NW 18th Ave. and 63rd Street -- a lot that serves as a neighborhood hangout.

With a sign outside that beckons: "Subs, Wings, Burgers," the King Market looks like a hundred other run-down, inner-city outposts in Miami whose owners subsist selling lottery tickets, bags of ice, sodas, beer, cigarettes, candy and gum.

On March 3rd of last year, shortly after 1 p.m., 23-year-old Demetrius Jones was walking south on 18th Ave. near the market when a Nissan Maxima traveling in the opposite direction slowed to a crawl as it approached him. Someone inside rolled down a window, pointed an assault rifle at Jones and shot him numerous times.

"When officers arrived on the scene," according to CBS Miami, "they saw that Jones has been shot multiple times in the torso, face, neck, and legs. Fourteen assault rifle casings were also recovered at the scene."

Four months later police arrested 21 year-old Efram Zimbalist Fitzpatrick and charged him with Jones' murder.

Saintonus Oscar.
On May 23rd of last year, shortly after 10 in the morning, 35-year-old career criminal Saintonas Oscar and another man were gunned down near NW 102nd Street and 12th Ave. Police have not caught their killers.

On Nov. 20th, 2013, 72-year-old Roberto Sousa shot three men, killing two, and injuring a third near NW 105th Street and 36th Ave. Sousa then drove to a remote area in Southwest Miami-Dade and shot himself.

Kendrick Davis. 
Twelve hours later, at a few minutes past midnight on Nov. 21st, someone shot and killed 34-year-old Cornelius Hudson near NW 74th Terrace and NW 19th Ave.

A few days later, police took 19-year-old Kendrick Davis into custody and charged him with Hudson's murder.

With just one exception, all of the above murders have three things in common: 1) Both the shooters and victims were African-American, 2) the killings occurred in the Miami-Dade Police Department's Northside District, and, 3) None of the killings were reported by the Miami Herald.

Only the Nov. 20th murders were reported by the Herald. In that incident, the shooter and his three victims were Hispanic. The paper covered the killings with a 132-word story.

All of the above murders, plus 34 others that occurred in the Northside District in 2013, are listed on the Miami-Dade Police Department's General Investigations Unit Contact Shooting Log. (Embedded below.)

I learned of the existence of the Northside District shooting log earlier this week as I watched Local 10's Glenna Milberg report on yet another child wounded in a drive-by shooting.

Milberg wanted to know how many shootings had occurred last year in Northside District where the child lives. So she called Miami-Dade Police, and within an hour or two she had the document.

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After watching Milberg's report, I was curious. But for a different reason.

So I also obtained a copy of the shooting log.

The Northside District, it turns out, is a very dangerous place to live.

The log shows that in 2013, 139 shootings occurred. Thirty-nine of those were homicides. And of the 139 shootings, detectives have managed to close just 28 cases. Of the homicides, they've closed only 9. One hundred nine shooting cases in the Northside District remain open or pending.

After looking at the numbers, I began to look at the names of the shooting victims. Then I started to run the names of the victims through the Herald archives.

What I found astounded me.

As far as I can tell, the Miami Herald - South Florida's paper of record for over 100 years, and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of crime  - no longer covers murder. At least not in the Northside District. None of the names of the victims on the Northside District shooting log showed up in the Herald's story archives.

But this is nothing new. For years, the paper has ignored the epidemic of violent crime in some of Miami's poorest neighborhoods.

In 2010, I wrote this about the murder of Michael J. Beatty II in Liberty City.
Two weeks after 20 year-old Michael Beatty was gunned down in broad daylight near NW 15 Avenue & 59th Street in Liberty City, the Herald has yet to print one word on the crime.

Beatty's murder was caught on video from several angles. The video shows a man chasing Beatty with a weapon that resembles a Mac-10. Apparently the editors at the Herald consider a cold-blooded daylight murder in Liberty City just another day in the 'hood not worthy of reporting. Even though the story was reported on the website of a British newspaper.

Three and half years after Michael Beatty was gunned-down in cold blood, the Herald has yet to print one word on his murder.

Would the Herald have ignored the story of Michael Beatty's killing had he been white and had his killer chased him through the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables, spraying bullets from a Mac-10?

Or if his killer had shot him dead in front of a swanky half-million dollar Belle Isle condominium on Miami Beach?

By failing to report on violent crime in certain Miami neighborhoods, Herald editors seem to be sending an unequivocal message to their readers in those neighborhoods: "Your life has no worth. You are dirt-bags. We don't care about your story or about how much suffering you endure. It's not our problem. We don't live there. Besides, we're busy working on another page one story on Haiti."

Will any of this ever change? I wish I knew, but I don't have the answers.

But the Herald's managing editor, Rick Hirsch, and executive editor, Mindy Marques, do have the answers.

Why not call or email them and ask?

Rick Hirsch: Phone 305-376-3504.

Mindy Marques: Phone: 305-376-3429.


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