Miami riots: no easy answers to 'something building a long time'
After a second night of violence in black neighborhoods here -- worse than the first -- black and white community leaders are continuing their disjointed efforts aimed at first restoring, then keeping, the peace.
Some demands have begun to emerge from the black community, but it is clear there will be no easy answers, no quick fix to problems that have gone unanswered for years.
"This is something that has been building up for a long time," says Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre. "We live in a society that has been marked by racism," he adds. "It is a national problem."
The thin fabric of racial harmony here has been violently torn. In the opinion of most community leaders, it will take a long time to repair it.
What is needed now more than anything, black community leaders say, is a "dramatic signal" to the black community that their grievances, especially on the issue of alleged police brutality, will be addressed fairly.
The violence, triggered by the acquittal of four white policemen in the beating death of a black, pushed the death toll to at least 19 by midday Monday (May 19). Some were killed by random snipers. Hundreds of persons were reported injured, and fire officials estimated property damage would soar into the billions of dollars. Most major fires had been brought under control and a reinforced National Guard had sealed off the major black communities affected and was patrolling to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
In the largest sealed-off black community, which this reporter managed to enter, children rode bicycles peacefully down side streets lined with middle-class homes and well-tended lawns. But on main streets, closer to low-income housing projects, looting and fires and rock throwing were seen. Although someone hit the fender of my car with a rock, a few blocks away I was welcomed into several homes of black residents.
To help calm the violence, some black leaders hope the resignation or temporary stepping down of Miami state's attorney Janet Reno would be a positive signal to the black community. She is under fire from blacks for alleged failure to prosecute white police accused of brutality against blacks in a number of cases.
Miss Reno refuses to step down, even temporarily.
"The implication that people step aside because of rioting is terribly destructive to the democratic process," she said.
She says, however, she welcomes any investigation into her handling of police brutality cases.
Others here hope the "signal" to the black community may come from a federal trial of the ex-policemen acquitted in the death of black insurance salesman Arthur McDuffie.
In Washington, President Carter Dispatched US Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti to Miami. The attorney general told the President the Justice Department will convene a federal grand jury to consider whether there are civil rights grounds to prosecute the four white ex-policemen acquitted in the beating death of Mr. McDuffie.
Andrew Young, former UN ambassador, is here calling for reason instead of violence. Many, many local blacks, including the mother of Arthur McDuffie, are pleading for peace.
Long-range issues are only beginning to get attention.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is calling for the hiring of more black police, fairer racial makeup of juries (the McDuffie jury was all white), and the resignation of Miss Reno. Former Miami commissioner Aphalie Range, a black, told the Monitor she wants a federal investigation into what she alleges is a "double system of justice" for blacks and whites. She says previous cases of police brutality against blacks have gone unpunished.
Meanwhile, in the sealed-off black community of Liberty City, part of Miami, black families worry about the safety of their children on the streets.Many of their neighborhood stores have been destroyed.
"All we can do is pray and hope things calm down," James Hughes told this reporter as we sat in his living room.