MIAMI — In an effort to facilitate more reporting of crime in black communities, Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and a grassroots community organization have launched a new bus-bench ad campaign.
The campaign is aimed at promoting an initiative that allows people to secretly mail in information about criminal activity.
The "Just Report It" campaign, created by Spence-Jones and P.U.L.S.E. (People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality) in 2008, is being stepped up after two separate mass shooting incidents in Miami this year.
P.U.L.S.E. and Spence–Jones on Thursday, Sept. 17 will unveil the launch of the bus-bench advertising initiative to promote the program.
The Rev. Anthony Tate, president of P.U.L.S.E., said the initiative has already resulted in nearly one thousand cards from the community, all reporting information about crimes.
The ads will be featured on 27 bus benches throughout Miami City Commission District 5, which includes Liberty City, Overtown, Wynwood and Little Haiti.
The ads will be unveiled following the press conference.
A January shooting, allegedly by at least one masked gunman in Liberty City, injured several people and killed 16-year-old Brandon Mills and 18-year-old Derrick Gloster. No arrests have been made in that shooting, despite a $50,000 reward.
A more recent shooting happened at a July block party in Overtown, killing Michelle Coleman, 21, a student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee; and Anthony Smith, a 17-year-old football star at Booker T. Washington Senior High in Miami.
Rodney Lashawn Miller was arrested last month for his alleged role in the Overtown mass shooting where, in addition to the murders, 12 people were wounded, according to police.
Although tips from the community led to the apprehension of Miller, 18, such
cooperation from the community is notoriously slow from many black communities. A strong anti-snitch philosophy often prevails, and fear of repercussions from at-large suspects looms.
"I know that reporting crimes and illegal activities in our neighborhoods is sometimes not that simple. Many residents have expressed their concerns about being labeled a "snitch" or their fear of retaliation," Spence-Jones said in an emailed statement to the South Florida Times.
Tate said the "Just Report It" campaign is designed to make it easy for people like Miller to be captured.
"It gives the community a say-so in reporting crime in their neighborhoods," said Tate, who is the senior pastor of the New Resurrection Community Church.
The program allows people to pick up postage-paid cards from various locations, including churches, Neighborhood Enhancement Team offices and police and fire stations, complete them anonymously, and drop them into a mail box.
Tate said programs like Crime Stoppers are essentially ineffective in inner-city communities because people don't trust the process.
"A lot of citizens do not have faith in the Crime Stoppers,'' he said. "They think that when you call in that some kind of way that their telephone numbers will be tracked or traced."
Providing members of the community a way to report crime while being assured that they can remain anonymous is an important feature of the "Just Report It" program, Tate explained. He said the fearlessness exuded by criminals is fueled, in part, by their knowledge that no one will turn them in to law enforcement.
"The police can't do it alone," he added.
Spence-Jones said, "Reporting a crime can save a life, prevent an injury, or stop a crime from occurring. In 2008, over 100 arrests were made because residents used the HotSpot card. I hope that the bus bench ads encourage residents to report more."
In addition to reporting crime, people may also use the cards to alert city officials to abandoned houses, littering, illegal dumping, homelessness and drug abuse.
As P.U.L.S.E. receives the cards, they are disseminated to various city departments according to the issues reported. Tate said monthly reports on the information collected and, importantly, the action taken to remedy the issues, are provided to Spence-Jones.
While the primary aim of the program is to reduce violent crime, he said, the program serves other important functions as well.
"We've also been able to get people into drug rehabilitation programs," Tate said.
Photo: Michelle Spence-Jones
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Launch of bus bench advertisement campaign for the "Just Report It" program
WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 17 at 10:30 a.m.
WHERE: NW 62nd Street and 12th Avenue, Miami