Dead End

Bullets are flying and young men are dying in Deerfield's street war between Haitians and African-Americans

The entire automotive training center fell into mourning. Brown, the tutor, happened to be taking an art class at the time. When she saw a school photo of the fallen student, she was inspired to mold the teen's face. It soon became, as she puts it, a "labor of love."

Brown, a white, middle-aged mother of two from affluent Parkland who'd only dabbled in clay in college, would spend six months on the bust. She toiled on the sculpture right there at the automotive school, not sure if she could pull it off. "It was kind of an out-of-body experience," she says. "I surprised myself."

Jennings' fellow students were fascinated by the work. They would touch it. Their eyes would get misty, even some who, like Brown, hadn't even met him. And they would still mourn, just as his friends and family had at the young man's packed funeral.

Steven Jennings
Steven Jennings
Ozell Jordan (following image) and the spot where Strobridge watched him die
Ozell Jordan (following image) and the spot where Strobridge watched him die

Strobridge attended the services. He remembers not only great sadness but another emotion in the room, a stronger one that seemed to burn in the tears dropping from reddened eyes.

"I felt anger," Strobridge remembers. "You could just feel it, especially from his friends."

The future was easy to predict at that funeral. The violence was only beginning.

Jennings' death jolted entire neighborhoods. Adams, who works for the City of Deerfield Beach, had already seen the problem blowing up on his street, which is generally in Haitian territory, south of SW Tenth Street. The murder only confirmed to him that the problem was getting out of hand.

"One night, the Haitians got so angry, they got in a caravan of cars, and they were hanging out the windows with sawed-off shotguns, Uzis, pistols," he says. "They were sitting out the door like you were in Somalia or something like that. That's when I knew we were in serious trouble.

"My street used to be the quietest street in the world. Now I have to go to my car with my gun in my hand, cocked and ready."

One neighbor of Adams' on SW Fifth Terrace is 20-year-old Kevin Artelus, a first-generation Haitian-American. In early 2005, a car rolled up on him and his friends as they hung out in front of his house.

A window came down, and a gun came out of it. The boys inside yelled, "Die! Die, fucking Haitians!"

Then the shots started ringing out. Artelus, believing he was about to die, ran as fast as he could to his backyard and leapt a fence. He wasn't hurt. But one of his friends took a bullet in the buttocks and had to be taken to the hospital. Ironically, the friend, Michael Hill, was an African-American.

Last week, Artelus stood outside his home near where the shooting took place. There's still crime-scene tape on a nearby sign from another shooting that occurred more recently. He points to the house next door.

"There's a bullet hole in that door, and the side window is boarded up because of another shooting," he says. "That house down there was all shot up a bunch of times. The stop sign down the street still has bullet holes in it. See that blue car? It has a bullet in it."

Adams looks at Artelus, whom he has known for many years and considers a friend. "I don't look at him as a Haitian," he says. "I look at him as another black American. I've seen him grow up."

But many factionalized youths didn't see it the same way, as Jennings' death underscored so dramatically. Adams has logged dozens of calls regarding gunfire on his street, and after Jennings was killed, he went to see then-Deerfield City Manager Larry Deetjen. He told him the city had to do something about the violence.

"Deetjen told me Steven Jennings was a bad guy and got what he deserved," Adams says. "I was shocked and really hurt by what he said that day."

Deetjen didn't return a call from New Times for comment.

It's a common complaint: The city isn't doing enough to confront the crisis.

"There doesn't seem to be any brouhaha at all over this, and I can't believe that," says Brown, the automotive training center tutor. "If these were Parkland kids, it would be talked about everywhere."

The implication is clear: Because this has been happening in a working-class black neighborhood, it has been all but ignored.

Deetjen lost his job at the city last year after he was accused, ironically, of throwing a racist tirade at an airport. But city officials still seem lost as to what to do.

"We are looking for answers," Commissioner Steve Gonot says. "It's not easy."

Commissioner Sylvia Poitier, the only black elected official in the town, is pushing a mentoring program, complete with government training for volunteers, called "Hug a Thug." The title alone has been met with such great skepticism that it seems doomed from the start. Strobridge, who often works with Poitier, laughs at the program's title but says it's still a step in the right direction.

BSO, meanwhile, has beefed up enforcement with the "Cease Fire" operation. Although that may slow the violence, it won't, as Artelus points out, solve it. "What BSO needs to do is round up a group of people on both sides, put them in a room, and let them talk it out," he says. "We need people to come to a truce."

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