Miami riots: don't blame the Cubans

Analyses of the recent black riots in Miami by writers who were not here during or since the riots and have not interviewed blacks in the riot area often differ from reports based on firsthand information.

For example, in addition to a perception by blacks of police brutality against them, one of the major causes of the riot, according to many writers from afar is the recent (and past) influx of Cubans to this area which has frustrated blacks' search for more jobs and better housing. In the rush of my first report on the riots, this writer, too, briefly cited such a concern about the Cubans.

But in subsequent interviews during and immediately after the riots with dozens of blacks in the riot area, Cubans were not mentioned as a cause. Only if the questioner persisted by asking if Cubans were a cause of black frustrations did some blacks comment on the Cubans. And then they said only that Haitian refugees (black) to the US are getting less favorable treatment than Cubans (of whom only a small percent are black).

Though Cubans may have taken some jobs and housing that might have gone to blacks over the years, to a significant degree Cubans have begun many now-prospering businesses in the Miami area. In the process they have put many fellow Cubans to work and made taxpaying consumers out of them, in turn providing a base for still more jobs.

The true roots of the riot, as best this reporter could determine on the scene, are multilayered. The top layer, as most reports accurately stated, is a perception on the part of blacks of police brutality against them. The "not guilty" verdict by an all-white jury in the trial of four policemen accused of beating to death a black insurance salesman apprehended after a high-speed chase last December was, indeed, the flash point of the riot.

But beneath that was a long buildup of tension between the police and the black communities here. And beneath such tensions was a lack of respect and courtesy between the two groups as each eyed the other as a likely source of trouble. Clearly it there was less crime in the black communities there would be less occasion for police black confrontation and misunderstandings.

This leads us to an even deeper layer of causes of the riots, some long-simmering problems that can no longer be faced only half-heartedly: a year-after-year intolerably high rate of unemployment among young blacks; frequent lack of good maintenance by owners of low-income rental apartments; a serious lack of job training programs; inadequate measures by police to curb crime in the black communities; slow city and federal response to planned housing improvement projects in the black communities.

In addition to action on these problems, the black communities would also benefit from a greater community relations effort by police; improvements in the juvenile justice system to do more than just release serious offenders so often; government-assisted insurance programs to help attract and keep the much- needed businesses in the rioted areas; close civilian review of police actions and improved stress and racial-relations training of police.

Blaming the Cubnas is not only inaccurate, it invites a lack of determination to face the real root causes of the riots. Similarly, waiting for whites to amend past racal mistakes and bail out the black community will not solve the problems. While help is needed -- urgently -- but blacks themselves must pitch in and reach out.

There are some cries of dismay from whites: Why build up what "they" tore down? But the "they" amounts to only a fraction of the black community. Most blacks did not participate in the riots; some tried to stop the violence at risk to themselves. Most blacks condemn the violence.

A kernel of hope remains in the aftermath. Though charred by the fires of hatred and racism, this kernel could germinate and grow, if nurtured carefully. It is the very deep and sincere longing on the part of many blacks and whites to improve relations between the two groups and to get on with the work on long-neglected problems before another riot erups here or somewhere else.

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