FL - Taking back the streets!


Taking back the streets
August 23, 2008

Hollywood - Leaders of a crime-plagued neighborhood near downtown are
tired of talk and task forces. Instead, they're taking up arms and
preparing to become a "lock and loaded" community.

Members of the Royal Poinciana Civic Association say they want to
start working with a Texas-based gun-rights organization and a local
weapons-training academy to verse residents on gun laws and

"It is unfortunate, but it really has come down to this," said the
association's president, Jack David, whose neighborhood is surrounded
by cheap motels, slum apartment buildings and a large cluster of
social service agencies.

In April, shortly after a Sun Sentinel article detailed the
community's woes, city officials created a task force to look at the
problems in Royal Poinciana and nearby Park Side, south of Young

City officials say the task force has led to some progress, but at its
most recent meeting Wednesday, residents' frustration boiled over.

First, residents distributed a flier with the picture of a badly
beaten Robin Mejias, 37, who told Hollywood police she was mugged
while walking through the neighborhood on Sunday morning. The flier
read "All-American Victim," mocking the city's recent All-America City

Then group leaders reiterated a controversial demand to combine all
the area's agencies ? including the COSAC Foundation homeless shelter,
several drug rehab centers and a soup kitchen ? into a locked compound
near the edge of the neighborhood.

"It's your people that are walking around our neighborhood committing
all these crimes," yelled one resident at homeless shelter director
Sean Cononie, who was in attendance.

"What you are suggesting is putting people behind walls and that's
un-Christian-like, it's un-Jewish like, it's completely inhuman and
unacceptable," Cononie fired back.

The tense exchange ended with Commissioner Beam Furr saying he'll
schedule another meeting to seek common ground and positive solutions.
Among other things, the task force has discussed placing tighter
regulations on the motels, offering incentives to motel and apartment
owners to fix up their places and expanding a police street crimes
unit that has already made 653 arrests in Royal Poinciana since

But city and police officials have rejected the notion of stopping
people from walking around the neighborhood and forming a walled-in

After the meeting, Royal Poinciana leaders said they're moving ahead
with plans to become an armed community. If members give formal
approval on Sept. 4, the group will apply for grants to help pay for
weapons training and to purchase warning signs, said activist Norm
Berube, who bought a Glock a month ago.

"Almost all of us are already armed," he said. "It's now a matter of
letting everyone know we're ready to do what we have to do to protect

A number of residents have already signed up for courses at the 911
Store in Hollywood, a weapons shop and training center. The group has
also been in contact with the Texas-based Second Amendment Sisters to
teach them about gun laws, said David.

Police Chief Chad Wagner, a task force member, said the neighborhood
has the right to arm itself, but he's concerned about creating a
dangerous situation.

"I am strong advocate of the Second Amendment, but you can go from
being a victim to someone being prosecuted very easily," he said. "My
fear is that someone is going to get into trouble, or hurt."

Ivy Rivello, 46, has lived in the neighborhood for three years. She
said she's no longer waiting for the city or police to solve problems.
A waitress who lives alone, Rivello recently purchased a handgun so
she could feel safe.

"I never imagined I would be a grandmother with a gun," she said.