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Sen. Bill Nelson Talks Gun Violence, Poverty In Liberty City

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida toured the Liberty Square public housing complex with local politicians Friday before meeting with more than a dozen Liberty City activists—some of whom have lost relatives to shootings.

The discussion focused on ways to reduce gun violence and improve housing and other opportunities in the area that has long been a hotbed for violence and poverty. 

The Democratic senator said Congress does not have the votes to pass stricter gun control laws. However, there are still some measures that both Democrats and Republicans can potentially support, he said. 

"Ban the long clips for a pistol or an assault rifle," Nelson said. "Another practical thing is to do a comprehensive, universal background check in the acquisition or the purchase of a gun." 

Community activists at the meeting agreed with the need to reduce the availability of guns. But they said poverty and poor living conditions throughout Liberty City are the root cause of the violence. City officials must provide people in the area with more job and education opportunities, they said. 

"[People] have no way out," said Leatha Bush, the vice president of the group Families Affected By Violence. "They've got to fight to stay alive. No clothing, food. You ain't got nowhere else to turn." 

Miami-Dade County hopes to revitalize and reduce crime in the neighbhorhood by  replacing Liberty Square, a sprawling, old public housing complex known as the "Pork and Beans."

Michael Liu, the director of the county's public housing agency, said the first phase of the redevelopment process is ongoing. The county plans for the new complex to feature mixed-income housing units. 

"People deserve to live in dignity," Miami mayor Francis Suarez told Nelson during the tour. "They really deserve a project like this."

But Liberty City community activists at the meeting Friday said they are concerned that Liberty Square residents will be displaced and transferred to other old public housing communities once the complex is demolished. Some residents of the James E. Scott community had a similar experience when that complex was redeveloped 18 years ago. 

The county has said Liberty Square tenants do not have to move out until the new units are built. They will then have the right to move into the new development. 

Bush said she just wants current Liberty Square residents to move somewhere better than where they are living.

"If you're going to take them out, bring them to something that's worthwile living in. Don't take them and bring them to the same thing," she said. 

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Nelson toured the Liberty Square public housing complex with Miami mayor Francis Suarez and other city leaders.
Sam Turken / WLRN
The Florida Channel
Nelson toured the Liberty Square public housing complex with Miami mayor Francis Suarez and other city leaders.

After living in North Carolina the past four years, Miami native Sam Turken is back in the city he’s always called home.