South Florida: Trouble in Paradise

South Florida is Hit By a Hurricaine of Crime, Drugs and Refugees

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drugs, or any other cargo wor thy of the smuggler's interest.

When Ponce de León first sighted thi shores of what he believed was an island on a balmy March day in 1513, he named it Florida (full of flowers), in honor of the Easter season. The region was settled slowly, even reluctantly. South Florida, in particular, was terra incognita. The Florida land commission described it in 1823 as a place "of half-deluged plains, deep morasses, and almost inaccessible forests . . . a home only for beasts, or for men little elevated above beasts."

One of those a bit more elevated was a young Cleveland widow by the name of Julia Tuttle, who moved to Miami in the 1870s. The city then was a makeshift village of shacks and sand trails hacked out of palmetto groves. When a freeze destroyed the citrus crop of central Florida in 1894, Tuttle picked a bouquet of orange blossoms untouched by the frost and sent it to Financier Henry Flagler as proof that South Florida was worth a look. Flagler, who was already building up St. Augustine, came, saw and was conquered; he built a railway to Miami and beyond, all the way to Key West.* During World War I, the Government put a number of training camps in Florida, and after the war ended, some of the doughboys returned. The first great Florida land boom was under way.

Hundreds of thousands streamed into the state, some 2.5 million people in 1925 alone, to stake out their lot in the sun. Many bought their land sight unseen, and some found themselves proud owners of swamps and tidal marshes. The boom went bust in 1926 when Northern banks stopped writing mortgages on Florida lots and a savage hurricane lashed Miami, killing several hundred people. Florida's fortunes ballooned again after World War II, in part because a new wave of doughboys hit its beaches. From 1950 to 1960 the population of South Florida doubled to 1.5 million, and during the 1960s swelled to 2.2 million. The wave has yet to crest. South Florida grew at an annual rate of 44% during the 1970s, four times the national average, to its present 3.3 million.

South Florida has perhaps grown too fast ever to grow up. "We are still longing for maturity," says Miami Historian Arva Parks. "We have always been vulnerable to certain kinds of people, so that when opportunity knocked, exploitation answered." Even today, most of those who live in the area grew up somewhere else, and their sense of community may extend only as far as the K mart down the street. "You can't compare us to Boston or Denver," says Mayor Ferre. "Our people's roots are always somewhere else."

By far the most visible problem in this rootless region is crime. South Floridians talk about crime the way people elsewhere talk about sports or politics. Listen, for example, to Carole Masington, the wife of an attorney, who lives in a well-to-do suburb of South Miami: "We had two manhunts in my neighborhood in one week. One friend was mugged, another was assaulted and raped. My favorite storekeeper was beaten and hospitalized, and my mother was robbed twice. And I am just one person." Or hear the Rev. Paul MacVittie, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Miami: "My car has been broken into three times, my house has been robbed once, and my 15-year-old son was mugged." His wife, Robin, was mugged, shot and

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