On one Miami street: ice cream, laughing -- and troops
Miami — At an undamaged Dairy Queen in the midst of the riot-torn black community here, business is brisk. In spite of the presence of several white, armed national guardsmen -- or perhaps because of them -- the atmosphere is relaxed.
One white guardsman, helmet askew and rifle hanging downward in one hand, instead of up and ready for action, is engaged in friendly talk with several black men -- laughs and smiles all around.
At one point a black man shows the guardsman a handful of rifle bullets he has.
Earlier in the day, crisscrossing the community by car, a Monitor photographer and reporter found other signs of a gradual easing of tensions.
Commuter traffic from the area was picking up again, even along a street where sniper fire had erupted during the night. Cars were lined up for gas at a station where a white attendant worked along with blacks.
Young children were beginning to come back on the main streets, mostly in the tow of their mothers.
Undamaged restaurants were crowded. But nothing could hide the emptiness of the charred ruins of so many stores and light industries. By some estimates, total damage may exceed $100 million, making this one of the most expensive riots in US history.
Conditions are so bad that Florida Gov. Bob Graham -- at the urging of black leaders here -- has asked President Carter to declare the riot area a disaster area so federal funds can be used to help build back the community.
Back at the Dairy Queen, Ronald, 14 and black, tells this reporter as we eat ice cream that someday he wants to be "something big -- like a movie star or a lawyer. I don't want to be nuthing' small."
Later, sitting on the curb nearby, David Gordon, 16, also black, says that during the riots he stayed home "and read my Bible," although some of his young friends urged him to join the looting. "Whenever I stole [ as a child], I got a spanking," he says solemnly, eating a sundae. An angry-looking young black on a bicycle pulls up directly in front of this reporter. Spotting the journalist's notebook in my hand, he says: "Hey man, get us some newspapers up here. We ain't had no newspapers."
For many, more than newspapers are missing. Food has about run out in the homes of many families trapped, by the two days of rampaging. Getting to the nearest store that is not burned out is hard, especially for the elderly and those without cars. But at least bus service has begun again.
Liberty City, the main block community in Miami, remains a powder keg. however. One radical black told a community leader here he only quit shooting his pistol because he ran out of bullets.
US Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti has promised the thing most sought by blacks here: a federal probe of all cases, past or present, of alleged police brutality against blacks, including the case that sparked the riot. A federal grand jury now begins to hear evidence on that case.
"Two things have become very close," Mr. Civiletti told reporters here. A "feeling of a double standard of justice" and the "need for concrete action to be taken now and to be sustained."
Mr. Civiletti also has ordered the opening of a permanent office here of the federal Community Relations Service of the US Justice Department.
Defusing the hostile feelings here between blacks and police will take time. It is an issue that runs deep and among all economic levels of the black community.
The key, says a black woman interviewed here in the riottorn area, is "respect", Police act tought -- tougher than they need to, many blacks complain. But some white police here say acting tough is necessary in the black communities.