Overtown Residents Systematically Arrested for Crossing Train Tracks

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tracksJPG
Photo by Trevor Bach
On May 20, 2013, Edduard Prince began walking from his home on 17th Street in Overtown to his job at a legal processing company at 15th and Biscayne, just as he does every day. He crossed the railroad tracks that bisect his street between NW First and North Miami avenues, just like everybody else does.

And then a few minutes later, he was arrested for trespassing, just like hundreds of others have been -- all for walking through their own neighborhood.

"[The officers] were two blocks away from the tracks, on the side, behind other cars," says Prince, whose story was first reported by Al Crespo's Crespogram blog last week. "Once you walk down the street, they kind of like pop out from behind these cars."

In the past couple of years, the Florida East Coast Railway Police, which has jurisdiction over the tracks, has issued at least 700 trespassing arrests in the exact same spot, claims Prince, who has a pending civil lawsuit against the company and who provided Riptide with dozens of other arrest affidavits. The offenders are predominantly black and poor, like most residents in the area, and they're typically walking between Overtown and jobs or businesses east of the tracks or to the Publix on Biscayne Boulevard.

They cross at the trash-strewn rock path at NW 17th Street because it's the only option for seven blocks. Once arrested, they're typically handcuffed and sometimes taken to jail -- only for the charges to be promptly dismissed in court.

"They're targeting poor communities," Jon De Leon, a civil rights lawyer, says. "It has been a program used to detain and arrest minorities."

But Bob Ledoux, a spokesman for the railway, says that his company's main concern is safety and that every year pedestrians are killed trying to walk across tracks. "Depending on the circumstances, the officers have the authority to make arrests if they deem to be warranted," he says.

Prince was arrested around 10 in the morning. He was wearing a hoodie with his hands in his pockets, he says, when the officers converged on him from behind the cars. One pointed a gun. Prince had already heard from friends about the arrests and quickly steeled himself.

"You going to arrest me for walking over the railroad tracks?" he quipped. He told the officers that he worked for an attorney's office and that his was a nonarrestable offense. "OK, smart-ass," he claims one said. "You're going to jail."

Prince was released that day but had to visit the hospital for minor injuries. He filed a claim and then was arrested again a few weeks later, he said, this time without even crossing the tracks.

Faced with complaints from residents like Prince, Miami's public works department filed a request with Florida East Coast Railway last month to create a pedestrian crossing at 17th Street. Ledoux says the railway plans to work on educating residents about the risks.

In the meantime, they're forced to weigh the risk of arrest versus the need to get to work or the grocery store. "It's like a trap for people," De Leon says. "It doesn't make any sense."

Send your tips to trevor.bach@miaminewtimes.com, or follow @trevorbach.

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95 comments
ob1sfla
ob1sfla

after someone closed to me got arrested recently for no apparently good enough reason, and all charges dropped, I read that 33% of young people in America have been arrested under 24 years old. I also found out that jails are now, a  huge %  privately own,by S & P 500 companies, and that every inmate, earns them $5 an hour in profits. people in this communities, where the local government don't really care, and their HUMAN HUNTERS, the Miami-dade police, works more for this rich industries, then for the benefit of the community, a great source of fresh inmates is found. like anything in Miami, involving corruption, they get away with it, because of their negligence of educating the community, about everything, and the fact that most people are immigrants, that come to a city in this country where nothing is known about this country, and they never will learn unless they first learn English. Miami-Dade police, your city is the 4th worst ran in this country, you are the real criminals, getting pay to serve that community, with their residence taxes, 

eprince1110
eprince1110

It has been found out why there are so many railroad police arrest in Overtown when poor blacks cross over the railroad tracks at 17th street. Florida East Coast Railway and All Aboard Florida has negotiated the purchase of blocks 56 in Overtown to build their headquarters. It's an issue of gentrification. So 17th street has been set up as a trap. Videos of them trapping people are on blog. Edduardprince.blogspot.com

Gayle33
Gayle33

Doesn't seem like a law was broken. Florida State law on trespassing as it pertains to railroad property is defined as:


"No person may without authority or without permission ride or attempt to ride on any railroad train with the intention of being transported free. Penalty A conviction is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in Sections 775.082 - 775.083. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 860.04 (2009)."


Jason Philip
Jason Philip

No police state here-those only exist in "other" countries. Yep, they get to decide what is safe for you-if it's a piece of nylon across your chest while driving or what you eat etc. They should just come to everyone's house and check for sharp edges, pointy scissors, slippery floors, and to make sure we don't participate in dangerous activities. Besides, if you get hit by a train, you're either drunk or a moron-they only travel in one place and they're pretty easy to see and hear.

Amanda Mattson
Amanda Mattson

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dallas2miami
dallas2miami

This disgusts me because I walk through their daily and always thought this was a rumor because I've never had any problems...guess its because I'm always wearing a suit or work blouse. This is why no one is ever sad when a miami police officer is killed. This is systematic class-racism in its fullest. I really hate these idiots. And for all of you idiots saying to just walk around, when you're carrying groceries and walking with a child, walking an extra 3 blocks (which equates to 6 since you have to walk back on the other side) when you can just cross 10ft of gravel is not ideal. I hate this. The better-off people who live on the east side go Running and cross that track all the time...I Wonder if any of them have been arrested?? This is pathetic and these idiots are a part of the reason we're regressing as a people. I've crossed it in front of police and never received as much as a warning. I just crossed it the other night and the security guard waved at me.

dallas2miami
dallas2miami

And they wonder why everyone over here hates the police.....

Jorge Garcia Jr
Jorge Garcia Jr

Maybe the trains will come faster and silently and take out the crossers and do taxpayers a favor!

ayarrow
ayarrow

While it might not be "Trespassing" it is still illegal to "walk" across the tracks according to this Florida law since it is not a "safe" and approved location to cross:


316.1575 Obedience to traffic control devices at railroad-highway grade crossings.(1) Any person walking or driving a vehicle and approaching a railroad-highway grade crossing under any of the circumstances stated in this section shall stop within 50 feet but not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of such railroad and shall not proceed until he or she can do so safely. The foregoing requirements apply when:(a) A clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device gives warning of the immediate approach of a railroad train;(b) A crossing gate is lowered or a law enforcement officer or a human flagger gives or continues to give a signal of the approach or passage of a railroad train;(c) An approaching railroad train emits an audible signal or the railroad train, by reason of its speed or nearness to the crossing, is an immediate hazard; or(d) An approaching railroad train is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to the railroad-highway grade crossing, regardless of the type of traffic control devices installed at the crossing.(2) No person shall drive any vehicle through, around, or under any crossing gate or barrier at a railroad-highway grade crossing while the gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed.(3) A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable pursuant to chapter 318 as either a pedestrian violation or, if the infraction resulted from the operation of a vehicle, as a moving violation.

ayarrow
ayarrow

Looking over the state law in Florida, I have to wonder if "Trespass" would apply here?


810.011 (5)(a) “Posted land” is that land upon which:1. Signs are placed not more than 500 feet apart along, and at each corner of, the boundaries of the land, upon which signs there appears prominently, in letters of not less than 2 inches in height, the words “no trespassing” and in addition thereto the name of the owner, lessee, or occupant of said land. Said signs shall be placed along the boundary line of posted land in a manner and in such position as to be clearly noticeable from outside the boundary line; or2.a. Conspicuous no trespassing notice is painted on trees or posts on the property, provided that the notice is:(I) Painted in an international orange color and displaying the stenciled words “No Trespassing” in letters no less than 2 inches high and 1 inch wide either vertically or horizontally;(II) Placed so that the bottom of the painted notice is not less than 3 feet from the ground or more than 5 feet from the ground; and(III) Placed at locations that are readily visible to any person approaching the property and no more than 500 feet apart on agricultural land.b. Beginning October 1, 2007, when a landowner uses the painted no trespassing posting to identify a “no trespassing” area, those painted notices shall be accompanied by signs complying with subparagraph 1. and placed conspicuously at all places where entry to the property is normally expected or known to occur.(b) It shall not be necessary to give notice by posting on any enclosed land or place not exceeding 5 acres in area on which there is a dwelling house in order to obtain the benefits of ss. 810.09 and 810.12 pertaining to trespass on enclosed lands.

ayarrow
ayarrow

If this becomes too much of a liability for the railroad then the tracks should be taken up, but keep in mind the price for food and other items will also go up since everything will have to be trucked into South Florida. The local police have no place in law to arrest anyone crossing the tracks unless this is done "In plain sight" being clearly illegal to enter private property. This is strictly a railroad matter covered under federal law and could involve the US Marshall's office and the federal prison already located in Miami. If there is reasonable access within seven blocks then it should be used until this issue is resolved in court. For those that think trespassing is not an arrestable offense, it is, that is after one warning ticket with a valid ID. If you do not have ID then you can be held for up to three days until your identity is known. Now, if there is a fence, this is equal to breaking and entering even if nothing is taken. If you have trash, don't try to toss it, this is littering and in some places around Florida is up to a $500 fine. Basically, laws vary from place to place and who operates in a given area crosses many lines. It is best if the court system rules in the long run.

Rosemary Kerttula
Rosemary Kerttula

Crossing railroad tracks is called trespassing. .it's a law has nothing to do with color or financial status.

whateveryousay
whateveryousay topcommenter

Each person that is arrested should sue.  Just let that get to a jury.


Charles M. LaBow
Charles M. LaBow

"Provide safe crossings?" Are you implying the violators are too stupid or too lazy to use existing grade crossings?

gpaugam7
gpaugam7

Fencing sounds like a good idea!  It should deter people from crossing and no one will get arrested...unless they choose to "cut" through the chain link fence.

DjCarlos Rojas
DjCarlos Rojas

This article is so wrong edited. U gotta see te amount of white crack heads living in this neighborhood

DrumRollPlease
DrumRollPlease

If the railroad was so concerned they would fence the sides.  If this line is going to used the entire area will have to be fenced with high security fencing that is very difficult to cut, climb or crawl under.  If I were the city I would start going after the railroad.  I would start by fining them daily for trash.

Familia Ramirez
Familia Ramirez

It's called maintaining the status quo. It's shameful that with so much wealth in this city. This community is still completely ostracized.

Lissette Taladay
Lissette Taladay

After moving to Seattle from Miami, I can tell you cops in Miami are f@&$ing crooked. They will give you tickets and/or arrest you for the dumbest things. I used to live getting tickets every month and now in almost 4 years I have yet to have a cop pull me over. You would think that with Miami being filled with so much crime they would have better things to do then arrest people for crossing a railroad track.

Diego Fernando Chica
Diego Fernando Chica

Who cares. Freaking Hippies and their delicate sensibilities. BWA HA HA.

Larry Shane
Larry Shane

If its all about safety why don't the FEC cops stand within sight at the crossing and tell people not to cross rather than hide and arrest !?!?!?!?!??

Gil Rodriguez
Gil Rodriguez

And I don't fucking care if it's train cops or city cops . Anyone abusing these poor people this way is a fucking asshole . Period

Wednesday Adams
Wednesday Adams

Did most of you NOT read the article ?? The rail roads have THEIR OWN police, this IS NOT miami PD. They should provide a safe alternative so the residents can cross over.

Frank R
Frank R

The tracks are used almost every day. I know Out wakes more up every morning around 715 with the train squealing on the new tracks they just replaced on the curve at 8st and behind the old grand central park. And the train crossing are clearly marked with fresh paint. Why can't people stay off the Damn tracks. Its a safety hazard. Maybe the cops are trying to get word out, cause the tracks are going to be very active soon with cargo and passenger cars to and from Orlando. Btw metrorail is very loud at the over town stop too. Just saying.

Peter de Casenave
Peter de Casenave

City of Miami police is using this as an excuse to try and stop the foot traffic to a known drug dealing area. They don't care about the innocent people they arrest because they're mostly minority. The only thing that matters is keeping the white users out, and the residents in. Sos

MiamiNative81
MiamiNative81

Or maybe a lightening bolt will come through your living room roof as you sit on your Lazy Boy and take one more racist a$$hole off our hands.


Taxpayers (like many of the individuals who cross the tracks each day) would be better served if time and money wasn't wasted arresting harmless citizens for minor offenses. If concerned about the safety of people crossing the tracks, why don't police start a campaign educating them on the dangers? Even simply issuing warnings would be a better use of tax dollars. 


This "sting" is clearly a lazy way of targeting minorities (which I'd like to remind you, if your last name is a reflection of your ethnicity, Mr. Garcia, you are too.). 


@Jorge Garcia Jr 

Gayle33
Gayle33

@ayarrow  There was no lowered crossing gate or train horn so these folks crossing the tracks did not violate the law that you mention. So I don't understand what point you are trying to make.


archieknuck
archieknuck

...and arresting residents for this heinous and egregious "trespassing" is the absolute best use of law enforcement too I guess?

ayarrow
ayarrow

@whateveryousay It would be interesting to read what a jury had to say based on the laws currently on the books or if this was tossed to the federal courts.

ayarrow
ayarrow

This is sort of funny since I have seen these overpass type crosswalks and people still try to cross six lane highways with concrete walls and fenced in tracks with holes cut into the fencing. It proves people try hard at being lazy, not that they are stupid, so to speak, only the stupid follow. 

archieknuck
archieknuck

It's the only option for 7 blocks. Would you hump 7 blocks out your way?

ayarrow
ayarrow

It is not just Miami, those tracks go all the way up the coast and the meaning, "Stay on your side of the tracks" is literally the difference between the wealthy and the poor. Maybe having the tracks removed would change things?

ayarrow
ayarrow

Or they could leave box cars there and take trespassers to a FEMA camp, oh wait, that sounds oddly familiar.

ayarrow
ayarrow

A negative opinion is not the same thing as a constrictive solution.

ayarrow
ayarrow

The problem here is the cost formula of doing business, if the "safe alternative" cost more or the liability too high then a business can shut down without any expense; however, the people pay higher prices to get what they need or want shipped or flown in since affordable ground transport would no longer exist. It might be in the best interest of the community to talk about safety and put fencing up on their side of the tracks?

ayarrow
ayarrow

This is an actual railroad safety website: http://oli.org/ At the bottom is more contact information if you have specific questions.

ayarrow
ayarrow

If the city on one side was truly concerned then maybe the people of that part of the city would attend city hall meetings and pay for their side to be fenced up and secured? Action only comes from the deeds of the people.

MiamiNative81
MiamiNative81

@ayarrow What are you talking about??? Based on the photo, crossing this area doesn't seem to require any of that. Not wanting to walk 7 blocks is not lazy. 

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