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Church Meeting About Overtown Development Ends With Activist In Chokehold

Daniel Ducassi

About 100 people gathered inside the fellowship hall at the historic St. John’s Baptist Church in Miami’s Overtown community to discuss the Miami Worldcenter, a multimillion-dollar development project.

The meeting opened with a prayer and some ground rules. First, stay on topic.

And second, “Be mindful where you are. Tempers can flare, passion can run high, [but] first of all, this is the Lord’s house,” said Bishop Dean Adams.

In the end, Adams' rules were not followed.

People went off topic, someone shouted "bulls--t" in the Lord’s house and at least five police officers responded to the church after a brawl broke out in which a local activist n crutches was held in a chokehold and had her hair pulled.

The meeting was supposed to be about community concerns around the Miami Worldcenter -- specifically about  Overtown residents' access to well-paying jobs.

Some residents were also concerned that men and women with criminal histories would not land some of the jobs.

But residents’ concerns were at times overshadowed by a tense standoff between Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who defended the deal with Worldcenter, and Adams, who contended Hardemon did not involve the Overtown community in the process.

Adams said Hardemon has a history of ignoring constituents and that he personally had to write a “nasty” note to the commissioner to get his attention. 

He added Hardemon did not stand up to Worldcenter in a way that would most benefit Overtown.

“It's about time that we have somebody to grow the testicles to stand up to these people and tell them, ‘Hell no,’” said Adams.

Rendering of first phase of Miami Worldcenter.

Hardemon was visibly annoyed at some of the critiques, but he spoke passionately to residents, telling them he had their best interest at heart during the Worldcenter negotiation and in all city negotiations where he can find jobs or money for the neighborhoods he represents.

“This thing is not perfect," he said, referring to the Worldcenter. “But excuse my French, it’s damn sure a lot better than anything you had before in this community."

The question-and-answer portion of the meeting quickly devolved into an all-out brawl when local activist Renita Holmes refused to follow the format and instead started to shout into the audience about suing the city.

Some in the audience tried to pull her back from interrupting the meeting, and during the process  fists started to fly.

At one point, at least six different people appeared to be holding on to Holmes. One woman was clearly yanking her hair while another had her in a chokehold.

The melee broke up before police arrived. It did not appear that anyone was arrested, but Holmes did file a police report.

Below is a short clip of the breakout.