Sunday, December 04, 2005

Gangs of Key West

There's a report in the Citizen on Saturday about a fight that occurred on Simonton St. among about 30 youths the previous Sunday. The incident wasn't reported in the press for almost a week, for reasons that aren't clear. There is nothing posted about it at the Police Department's news page on the City web site.

What interested me is this in the article:
Officer Frank Lalama, who's in charge of community policing for the Key West Police Department, was skeptical about any suggestion that the incident had been organized.

"There was a fight, and that was probably it," he said. "That's a typical thing that happens in the drunken atmosphere of Duval Street. It was probably a typical Saturday night fight."

Lalama flatly denied that the brawl could have been gang-related.

"There's no such thing in Key West," he said.

A couple of weeks ago at a Community Policing meeting held in Bahama VIllage, an officer who was identified as a member of the Street Crimes unit said that there are five gangs operating in Key West and on Stock Island. He handed out materials that the State of Florida uses to define gang behaviors. There's also this. He went on to say that there are 55 known members of these gangs, of whom 24 are currently in jail. He said that one of the gangs is from Miami (the "Miami Boys"), two are on Stock Island, and the other two are in Key West proper. The Miami Boys (and the Homestead Boys) as they are referred to here operate in various places in the Keys. The cities of Marathon and Islamorada have reported activity. One often sees Miami-area addresses for people arrested for selling drugs. The most common charge is sale of cocaine, usually of the crack variety.

Perhaps Office Lalama wasn't saying that there are no gangs, although the quote appears to give that meaning. What Lalama might have meant is that these particular 30 people are not known to be members of an organized gang. What is pretty clear from the article is that it was a fight between two groups organized for that purpose. Some might refer to a group like that as a gang (as it is used when talking about gang rape). Others might say it was a "mob", or a maybe a rabble of riffraff would do. The fact is that 30 people don't simply happen to meet on Greene St. and decide to commence beating each other.

I also wonder about this quote from the PD: "Key West police are describing it as "a typical Saturday night fight" near Duval Street .... Does this mean that there is regular pattern of Saturday night fights near Duval St.? If so, what are the police doing to forestall the fights from breaking out in the first place?

I'm familiar with the Saturday night (and Friday night) scene on Duval St. When we were running the shoe store, we'd watch the young men and women begin to congregate at Duval and Eaton Streets in the early evening. Some were in cars, but mostly they were on foot. They'd stand and sit on the steps of stores and behave in a boisterous way, using language that most would consider inappropriate in a public place, and interfere with easy access to the businesses located along the street. As the night wore on, the behavior became considerably more rowdy and increasingly disruptive. Arguments broke out between individuals. Sometimes the arguments escalated into physical confrontations that ended quickly, perhaps to be "settled" later. May be this is what happened on Simonton St. The news report don't include details enough to say.

As Katha Sheehan wrote in her letter to Key West the Newspaper, "To end this reign of wilding children, we need evidence that they cannot refute, and that the authorities -- and their parents -- can no longer ignore." She has been frustrated in her efforts to stop the ongoing thievery from her property. She has a collection of surveillance videos that could be used to incriminate some of the miscreants and perhaps lead to a halt to their burglaries. Two large guard dogs (Barky, one of them is called) have helped. The day the video was taken of the two above, the dogs were locked in the house for a good reason. So far she hasn't been successful in getting police to take action based on her evidence.

We're all looking to the Police Department to "do something" to stop this violent behavior. But what are they to do? What do we want them to do? They have a way to find that out. It's called Community Policing. Here's a variation of it. We ought to be doing it -- better!

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