As residents begin to trust officers, the fight against drugs picks up momentum. Lebonah Israel ponders her future after she asked Sgt. Frank Dean to drive her to drug rehabilitation, telling him she is “ready” to fight her addiction.
These photos by Nuri Vallbona appeared in The Miami Herald in 1999 and were finalists in the Pulitzer Prize competition.
The Liberty City area in Miami is a neighborhood that was plagued with drug violence and abandoned crack houses. However, through a combination of strict police enforcement and community involvement by officers and residents, drug dealers were run out of the neighborhood.
After a long day of arresting criminals, many officers would trade their uniforms for street clothes and coach children, preach in the streets, or help with other community needs. Many of the officers had grown up in the area they were serving and had a special interest in its improvement.
They also had to make sure that they kept pressure on the drug dealers by targeting drug holes over and over. If they relaxed in one area, gangs from outside the neighborhood were poised to move in to start the trade all over again. Because many of the officers knew the residents, the tough tactics they used in dealing with the drug dealers were accepted and even welcomed by residents.
Eventually statistics showed an improvement in the area as homicides and shootings dropped significantly.
Fueled by outrage that innocent children were getting caught in the crossfire of drug turf wars, residents and activists began to fight back. The MAD DADS of the NAACP began patrolling the area on Friday nights hoping to become role models to children who previously idolized drug dealers. As they enter one housing community, a youngster enthusiastically greets their arrival.
Officer Gregory Pelham barks out orders as he gets children in the neighborhood to warm up prior to baseball practice. He and other officers started a baseball team as part of their strategy to get children involved in positive activities.
Nuri Vallbona is a 2001 Nieman Fellow and a photojournalist for The Miami Herald.