Miami's black leaders seek better communications
Atlanta — ''We have to learn to live with one another,'' says a leader in the Miami community that was shaken by two days of rioting this week, sparked by the fatal police shooting of a popular young black in a game room.
Georgia Ayers had just finished a long night on the streets of Overtown, trying to calm people after word spread that the young man, Nevell Johnson, had died at the hospital. She still felt the effects of tear gas police used to quell violence.
Having seen four riots in Miami's black communities since 1968, Mrs. Ayers is convinced new efforts must be made to increase understanding between police and young people - or, she says, more violence may occur.
On the street, she and other community leaders got a firsthand measure of the deep rage and frustration of many young, mostly jobless, blacks feel toward the police. The game room where the police shooting occurred had been opened as a way of helping get idle youth off the street. Now, some of these young people said angrily, the police were coming in there to cause trouble.
The Hispanic police officer who shot Johnson had had complaints about overuse of force lodged against him before, according to Msgr. Bryan Walsh, chairman of the Dade County Community Relations Board. After the complaints, he was transferred from an Hispanic area to duty in the black community, Msgr. Walsh said.
The FBI, the City of Miami, and the Dade County state attorney are investigating to see if the police acted properly in the shooting. According to the police, the young man was armed and made a sudden move. According to a number of eyewitnesses, says Mrs. Ayers, the youth was unarmed.
Other incidents highlight tensions. Recently a black corrections officer was fatally shot by a white policeman in a traffic incident. Though cleared by the police department, the officer has been indicted on manslaughter charges by a grand jury, Msgr. Walshsays.
A second black was fatally shot by a white police officer in the rioting that followed Nevell Johnson's shooting. Approximately 30 persons have been reported injured in the violence, which included fires, shootings, beatings, and looting. Things were generally calm as of midday Thursday.
Just three weeks before the riot, the Dade County Community Relations Board had met in response to a report made earlier this year that racial isolation in Miami made riots more likely.
The Board outlined steps needed to improve housing, jobs, education, and the criminal justice system. This week's riot ''adds emphasis to what we were saying ,'' says Msgr. Walsh.
But ''far less'' federal money is available now for programs that could improve the poorest neighborhoods, the monsignor says. The loss of $70 million in federal job-related CETA money for the county, for example, has resulted in an ''enormous'' loss of money in these communities, he said.
''Until we get some money pumped into the coummunity and get people working, you're going to have tensions in the area,'' says Overtown Jobs Program and Response Service staff member James Wanza.