Belle Glade's plight is similar to America in 1933, the worst point of the Great Depression. A staggering 33 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level, which is a yearly income of about $22,000 for a family of four. By contrast, 18 percent of people in West Palm Beach live below the poverty level. In August 2009, Palm Beach County planners produced a report declaring an economic crisis in Belle Glade and neighboring towns South Bay and Pahokee. With an estimated unemployment rate of 40 percent, the report claims that the Glades region has "no visible means of support."

The planners pointed to a few bright spots on the horizon: A planned "inland port" distribution center, where freight from the coastal shipping industry would be sorted and routed on land; a new Glades Utility Authority; a new public hospital; and a canal dredging project to support the marine industry. But three years later, even these few economic advances have floundered. The inland port plan is on hold, the utility is on the brink of bankruptcy, the hospital loses $10 million a year, and the canal has not been dredged. In some ways, things have gotten worse. The state-run Glades Correctional Institution closed last year, shedding 300 vital jobs. Packinghouses have disappeared too.

In other words, the community is still in crisis, says Karis Engle, executive director of the nonprofit Glades Initiative. Her organization focuses on helping people get Medicaid, food stamps, rent assistance, and other health and human services. But she admits any real improvement is tied to jobs.

"Jobs are part of having a healthy community," she says. "We've got a long way to go."

Then there's the violence. While the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office says overall crime in Belle Glade has decreased since 2009, the number of homicides has tripled.

In 2009, there were three murders; the next year, there were four. In 2011, the total ballooned to nine. By comparison, the City of West Palm Beach, with a population about six times larger than Belle Glade's, had 19 murders in 2010. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Belle Glade's crime rate per 100,000 people was 9,389 in 2010, compared to 5,700 for West Palm.

In a country town of five-and-half square miles and just 17,700 people, every death leaves a mark. When someone gets shot, people are loath to tell the cops what they know. The distrust of law enforcement goes back decades. Right or wrong, there's a widespread perception that the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office doesn't do enough to keep people safe — especially if the people dying are black.

"To me, it feel like they don't give a damn," Leggett says.


The Alabama Georgia Grocery Store has been on this stretch of road since the 1940s, before it was called Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Some old-timers remember the store as a wooden shack. Now it's gray and blue paint over concrete, with old-fashioned block lettering on one side advertising "money orders, lottery, FPL payment." Inside, its shelves are stocked with country staples: white bread, cereal, boiled peanuts, ribbons of ground red meat in the display case.

Owner Jimmy McMillan, the 49-year-old great-grandson of the store's founder, worked hard to make sure things ran smoothly. As a white businessman in a black neighborhood, he hired black employees and kept them on for decades. He got to know customers' parents and grandparents, helped them out when times were tough. A champion bass fisherman, he would sometimes give customers his catch of the day. He was in the store the morning of January 2, when Graham tried to rob the clerk, Barbara Treadway, who happened to be McMillan's mother-in-law.

McMillan reached for something behind the counter. Graham spotted him and trained his gun on him. He tossed over a plastic bag and ordered McMillan to fill it with cash.

McMillan was not a man to back down from a fight. Sure, he let loyal customers buy groceries on credit and sometimes gave them food. He handed out turkeys at Thanksgiving and every Christmas tossed cases of beer to the men who hung out behind the store. But he was not timid — not even when threatened with a deadly weapon.

He emptied the cash register as told. Then, according to police, McMillan reached for Graham's gun. The teenager jumped back. He squeezed the trigger.

The bullet struck McMillan in the right shoulder. He collapsed to the ground. At 6:35 a.m., the sheriff's substation in Belle Glade called 911 to report the shooting. An emergency helicopter whisked McMillan to Delray Medical Center, where he died from his injuries.

Graham ran out of the store, the plastic bag of cash in hand.

Over the next several days, Belle Glade erupted in mourning. McMillan's longtime customers, most of them black, brought flowers and wrote messages on a makeshift memorial outside the grocery store. Hundreds of people attended McMillan's funeral. There were prayer walks and tearful, televised pleas from the McMillan family.

"We call for an end to this violence," the Rev. Robert Rease implored at one vigil.

Newspaper reporters and television crews trooped out to Belle Glade day after day, portraying McMillan as a hero in a broken town. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw offered a $25,000 reward for information that led to an arrest — more than twice the amount his office offered to find a serial rapist that has been terrorizing women for three years. The money stirred long-pent-up frustration with the cops. Many people in the community suspected the sheriff was eager to solve the case because McMillan was white and well-known. Two other, lesser-known clerks had been killed in recent years — one of them just blocks from the Alabama Georgia Grocery — and their cases remain unsolved. There was a reward of just $1,000 offered to find the killer of Carl "Jeff" Edwards in 2007, and the same amount was offered when Ali Kassem Ballout was shot in 2010.

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16 comments
PONYBOI LIVE
PONYBOI LIVE

THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THE TOWN ITS DA PPLS IN IT(SOME OF THE PPLS)THAT DONT WONT TO WORK LIKE OTHERS.ARE LET DRUGS TAKE OVER THEM.IN LIFE U HAVE TO WANT TO DO BETTER,AND SET GOALS....SMH.ETC.

Cartyerc
Cartyerc

There is a lot of talk about the "downgrading" the author did in this article. Back story on me, I was born in pahokee & raised in Belle Glade. I saw everything the author put in this article and more. Some of you say there is more to Belle Glade.... You're right.... There is also more to the world. The author isn't trying to put Belle Glade down. They are merely trying to shed light on a town that doesn't get the same publicity as the "wealthier" parts of Florida.

Cartyerc
Cartyerc

I had more... The part regarding the people playing card games and such. How many times have we heard,"get your education, or end up at the packing house/loading ramp/sugar mill/bean field"? How is the author downgrading our city by spelling out the facts that are in a census for everyone to see? Take your pride out of the equation. Belle Gkade is

Cartyerc
Cartyerc

*Belle Glade is stricken with poverty & crime. It's fact... I'm proud of my roots. I'm not to proud to face the truth. Think about it folks, if you disagree... Get out there & take our town back. Improve the community. Don't avoid the bad parts of town. Rebuild them. Love you all, I'm done.

We love our city
We love our city

This is so sad how you can get on here and downgrade the City of Belle Glade people choose not to better themselves by sitting under a tree playing cards and drinking beer all day. If you want anything in life you have to work for it, its not coming to you and if you choose to sit on the corner or go to school or get a job its your choice. I watch the news everyday and West Palm Beach & surrounding cities are on the news with a higher crime rate than Belle Glade but the wealthy can cover up their crimes unlike the poor communities there is some positive in our town and you don't have to drag our name in the mud we are PROUD OF OUR CITY.

IloveBelleGlade
IloveBelleGlade

This is pointless!!! I don't see the purpose of this article. I see you start off bout Corey robbing the store, how the residents making a living then jump to people who choose not to do anything. What makes you degrade a town u never lived in, the people who live in it when u never been through what we been through growing. Yes this really offends me because I was born and raised in Belle Glade, Fl never had much growing up but im very happy to be the woman that I became. From what I've read you only listed the bad things about Belle Glade what about the good things. Yes we have a high crime rate but crime happens everywhere you go. Im done but to Whomever this maybe im proud of who I and where i came from and i dont care who dont like reruns you are very immature and illiterate etc

Jalou002
Jalou002

How can you write about a town that you wasn't raised in.. What smell like manure to you smells like home to us. There is more to BELLE GLADE then football and crimes. If your going to talk about the bad why not mention the good things that happens in belle glade. This town gives the families that are unemployed a chance to send their kids off to school. You mentioned the liquor store but u didn't mention the library that's across the street. You mention seeing kids hang around but you didn't mention the boys and girls club and YEA. There are crimes everywhere but yet belle glade crimes are bad. You mention the bad things about the school but u don't mention the kids thats in school on the coast that's doing drugs. O wow I guess that's not a big deal because they have parents that is wealthy enough to cover things up. They always say Another man's trash is another man treasure.... Belle Glade is my treasure

Vanessa
Vanessa

This is just plain out ridiculous. How can you down grade a city that you really dont't anything about. What was really the purpose of this article. Was it about a Robbery or did you jut want to say some things about belle glade. And for the record more than just criminals come out of belleglade. There are indeed successful people some just choose not to come back to belleglade due to the fact that their is very small opportunity. Instead of bad mouthing belleglade how about you write about helping belleglade.

Why33430
Why33430

I don't get the part about the smell of manure????  Hey if you want to hang out every day all day sitting under a tree playing games ie: gambling and drink beer (which both costs money from working or PUBLIC assitance which is created by others working while you are sitting and drinking beer) instead of being a "postive" role model to these "young" men wandering the streets with nothing to do but watch you drink beer and gamble, how do you have a right to complain about jobs?  Jobs only come to those who seek not sit a whine about their beer getting warm. 

Carloslndn2
Carloslndn2

Was this sopposed to be a story about a young man who robbed a store. Or are you writing a novel about the surrounding areas of okeechobee lake? .... You wrote a paragraph disrobing what belle glade looks,feels,smells like? .. Learn to get the point! Every time I read an article I have to skip multiple paragraphs to get the point. Mad annoying!

FQS9000
FQS9000

Their momma's are so proud of those two good boys.  The popo are framing them, as the store owner had it coming and probably shot himself.

Let's start up a defense fund and get these two wonderful lads back on the streets where they can loaf around, knock up more ho-bitches and shoot evil, greedy, white store owners who are exploiting the oppressed afro-american community.

Free the Belle Glades Two!!!!  No Justice, No Peace!!!!

Betterbelleglade
Betterbelleglade

You can't defend something that is plainly caught on video!

FQS9000
FQS9000

I see my sarcasm missed you.

NewsDog
NewsDog

Are you going to believe what you see with your own eyes or what a brotha tells you.  

Betterbelleglade
Betterbelleglade

I would like to also know what an ordinary crime is? This article seems to put Belle Glade down harshly. For those that know what truly is, this article was a total slap in the face. We live here because we love it. Those that don't need to get out and quit giving it a bad name.

Betterbelleglade
Betterbelleglade

I believe what can be seen AND what he confessed to. Does there need to be more than that?

 
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