Blacks view 'Miami' as nationwide issue
Miami — The level of violence has finally subsided here after two long days and nights of rioting in black neighborhoods. But as some of the block after block of ruined stores and small industries smolder on and occasional sniper fire continues, the key question is: What next?
Or, as Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), suggested here: Where next?
"A problem that finally broke loose in Miami is about to break loose in some other cities across the US," he warned a hastily formed group of black leaders in a church here.
In an interview with this newspaper, Ozell Sutton, a community relations official of the US Justice Department, said excessive use of force by police "is a nationwide issue. I don't know any issue at present that excites blacks more than excessive use of force by police. It triggers more reaction than even the Ku Klux Klan."
The riots here were set off by the acquittal (by an all-white jury in Tampa) of four white policemen accused of beating to death a black insurance salesman arrested after a motorcycle chase. Several police officers testified against the arresting officers, and some police here say privately they expected convictions.
But -- and this may not be clear, even to whites in this area -- most blacks condemn the riots, although they understand the explosion of anger at the verdict. Most blacks here -- and this newspaper has interviewed many -- share that anger, a sense of betrayal by the justice system.
But the majority of blacks, who have not taken part in the looting, arson, and murder, agree with black leader interviewed here who say what has been happening the past few days is criminal and has to be halted.
It is blacks themselves who have suffered most from the violence, with some deaths and with many of their community's stores and local places of employment in ruins.
What will happen immediately regarding the violence is unclear, but these things have taken place so far:
1. President Carter has sent US Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti here to promise a full federal probe of the case against the four white policemen. A federal grand jury was scheduled to begin hearing evidence for a possible federal trial under a civil rights law.
2. Florida Gov. Bob Graham has appointed a civilian task force of leading local citizens to review the handling of the case.
Some black leaders here are urging that the riot area be declared a disaster area to allow a quick infusion of federal funds to restore businesses.
Such steps alone are not likely to calm those who are still the most wound up in the black community, the minority of blacks still bent on destruction.
On Monday former UN Ambassador Andrew Young held a meeting with young blacks in the worst area of rioting. He was heckled by many as an outsider who could do little for them, only talk. Just outside the building, a young black yelled to a black crowd: "Keep fighting. We gonna get us some justice." A black high school senior, Lenes, reluctant to give his last name, pointed to the man yelling to the crowd: "To me it seems like it's [the violence] easing down, but the tensions will still be there."
"The black people are mad," he added. If there is another incident, he said, "it might jump."
Two other national black leaders -- the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson from Chicago and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, from Atlanta arrived Monday. Their presence was welcomed by some black leaders here but criticized by others -- including T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, and Dr. Preston Marshall, a black educator and local Democratic committeeman.
"Some of the black leaders are out of tune with the black race," Dr. Marshall says. He criticized the "grandstanding" of out-of-town national black leaders who, he said, move on in a few days.
What concerns Mr. Fair most is that after the violence has died down, the Miami communities (both black and white) will go back to business as usual. That, he stressed in an interview, was not the way to avoid further problems. In addition to improved justice for blacks, he said, a massive infusion of private and public funds is needed in black communities for jobs, job training, creation of black businesses and clinics, among other things.