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The videogame saga Rock Star Games is set in Liberty City and it’s known as the virtual city inspired by New York, where its plot develops.

We could find some common factors, but the Liberty City which we will bring up close is real: it’s a neighborhood and it’s in Miami.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the construction of this project in 1933, when the Great Depression was taking place, as part of the New Deal. Its goal was the restoration of marginal suburbs with a high density of population. After four years of work this social, architectural and civic initiative gave birth to the Model City by the City of Miami known as Liberty City; and today as “The City”, the acronym used by homies in their raps when referring to the hood.

In 2009, Miami was considered by Forbes the most dangerous and miserable city in the USA. 47% of its owners have seen how their mortgages were drowning in the marshy waters of mangroves and how its beach waves dragged them offshore.

Today, it is among the top three. Since 2008, the housing crisis mixed with the excessive desire of having and showing off even if you don’t have anything, or the fact of still living at the expense of banks, have remained dominant symptoms in the DNA of the population. Those symptoms have grown in the last 50 years from downtown to overtown like a climbing plant. And Liberty City has not been an exception.

95% of its population is black, 4% hispanic-latino, and a residual 0.5% is white. It’s an area of nearly 20,000 people, mostly African American and Native American. Liberty City is surprisingly colorful and cheerful, it sounds like the consonant rhymes of rap, and if you look down, you’ll find hundreds of Blunt Wraps butts. They traffic with weapons and drugs, of course. It’s obvious that they don’t go around with crap; in the hood, joints are smoked in half-a-page-sized tobacco leaves with the naturalness of a population to whom marijuana is like a relaxing shower to us.

During the forties and fifties, the City was conceived as another reticular division of the American middle and lower classes. A residential community composed by churches, hospitals, cultural centers and social services, parks, etc. The construction of Interstate 95, which runs through Florida from South Miami – providing the backbone of the west side of the country to Boston- along with the reduction of clauses that restricted freedom in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, were the two critical realities in the transformation of the neighborhood during the early sixties -a period when segregation laws prohibited black Americans to go to Miami Beach. A fact that they countered with the creation of new cultural and entertainment centers such as the mythical Hampton House Motel. The Hampton House was frequented by a neighbor called Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights advocates. A ” social club ” in which Cassius Clay, soon to become Muhammad Ali, would celebrate along with Malcolm X the heavyweight title won against Sonny Liston. Today, the place where Ali, King and celebrities such as Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Robinson, Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole played and staged their jazz sessions with hundreds of friends is a roofless ruin supported by a handful of sticks.

Because this context of civil and cultural prosperity went to hell in in the 80s after Arthur McDuffie’s death, an African American motorist whose skull was split in two by four white policemen after a chase in the streets of Liberty City. This quartet was acquitted of the murder after getting rid of the evidence of the crime. On May 18th 1980, there erupted a three- day-long popular uprising which involved over 5,000 citizens. The protest turned into a riot and left 18 dead people and damage worth a hundred million dollars. That subversion got stuck in their minds, asphalt and newspaper archives. A reality which one lives with but which never really happened.

Understanding North Miami’s history is to understand what is happening today in Liberty City. The reason for finding on any corner a funerary offering made by family and friends with the shape of a pile or a row of teddy bears along with a photo of the deceased, or any representative objects of the person who died in a scuffle with police. In memoriam. These frequent murders occur in this neighborhood dotted with dreadlocks, caps, tattoos and Grillz[1] (metal covers) that glow in the gang members’ teeth while they greet each other with high-fives and bumping shoulders.

Although the place exudes a friendly and well-managed tolerance in matters of beliefs and races, few are the whites who swarm to Liberty. In Liberty City rules are known by everybody and it doesn´t matter whether you are Christian, evangelical, Orthodox, Baptist, or a practitioner of voodoo. What is essential is to know how things work, the codes that mark clothing and behavior in order to survive in a place with few resources and very few job opportunities, where people spend their lives “hanging in there“.

However, this is America …, and although a significant proportion of residents pay their shopping with Food Stamps (debit for food in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program of the Department of Agriculture), living on the streets or remaining part of this legend broken by speculation and corruption that is Miami, in Liberty City you can see (stolen?) luxury cars, brands generate demand for status among the gangs, and house facades glow in fluorescent colors projecting the light of a neighborhood with an eternal free spirit. Who says it’s not possible?

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve”

Martin Luther King


[1]     The topic of decorating teeth deserves in-depth reporting.