Friday, December 15, 2006

The clock is ticking down on Umoja Village

As predicted, the government would find a way to remove the homeless and their leader Max Rameau from the makeshift "Umoja Village" they erected on public land in Liberty City 53-days ago. With each passing day, the world is reminded that Miami and the county are doing an embarrassingly shabby job at providing affordable public housing and it officially became too much as the squatters at the "Village" were served notice yesterday when the City of Miami voted 3-2 to change the rules for public assembly. From now on any citizen gathering held on government land not generally open to the public-- must obtain a permit. It becomes final in January when commissioners are required to vote on it again. Only commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Tomas Regalado voted against the rule change sighting First Amendment challenges to free speech and the right to assembly.

Call us jaded from having lived here for so long, but we suspect that pressure was put on commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, an African-American who represents that part of Liberty City, to introduce the rule change. She said she was getting calls from her constituents to get the squatters out of there because they were having a bad influence on the community. In truth, the pressure was probably coming from developers and the mayor's office to make Umoja Village go away and it would look better if the rule change came from one of their own. Why else would Spence-Jones ignore the outrage from activists and leaders from five area churches who want the "Village" to remain?

As reported in the Miami Herald, Rev. Ralph Ross of the Historical Mt. Zion Baptist Church said, "They want to tear this place down. This place says our leaders are not doing what they can for our people." Rev. John Cox of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church added, "With regards to Umoja Village, the church embraces the residents as our brothers and sisters. We regard them as good neighbors-- in fact, better neighbors than some with more means."

Rev. John, too bad your sentiments aren't enough anymore in a world where only money talks.

As for Max Rameau, unless the Miami City Commission comes to its senses in January for the final vote, be prepared for an ignominious, but legal, eviction. Since the law may be against you, your only ally, aside from the church which no one seems to be paying much attention to lately, is the Fourth Estate, the poor's last resort talisman against a bullying, self-aggrandizing government. Keep them abreast of the situation. Make sure you send out press releases to cover "Christmas at the Village". Knowing the press is all over the "Village," maybe, just maybe, the City of Miami won't try to run you and your homeless brothers and sisters out of town. We're sure the last thing they want is another Time magazine cover story with cops behaving very third-worldly cracking heads with the same zeal found in south American dictatorships as they tear down your shantytown and try to bury everything it stood for.

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