The anger was expected. The brutality was not.
"We're not dealing with the '60s," said one black volunteer who walked the streets of Miami last weekend, trying to cool tempers in the midst of America's worst racial riot in more than a decade. "These rioters were different."
In the past, Marvin Dunn, the volunteer, said, "white people got hurt because they got in the way or because they provoked a confrontation. In this riot, the purpose was to kill white people. That's a whole new ball game to deal with."
Metropolitan Miami, the incredible melting pot, might seem the last place to provoke such violence. For years, it has opened its arms to all sorts of newcomers -- transplanted northernes, rural southerners, Cuban refugees, Haitian "boat people," Nicaraguans who fled the Sandinista revolution and other Latin emigres.
But increasingly, in recent years, its arms have been growing strained and tired, sagging under the rising demands for jobs, schools and affordable housing. Increasingly, the black community has had a sense of being kept at the bottom of the ladder as the newcomers clambered up.
For the underlying causes of the rioting, in short, all one needs do, as U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Mary Berry suggests, is "round up the usual suspects" -- high blacks unemployment, bad housing and poor education in overcrowded classrooms.
All that, however, was not what sent Miami's blacks on a rampage any more than it did the urban rioters of the 1960s.
In the volatile atmosphere of the big-city ghettos, the Kerner Commission found, in 1967-68 a routine -- sometimes even trivial -- incident can trigger a riot, usually after a series of tension-building events over a period of weeks or months. Police conduct provided the tension in almost half of the 24 disorders studied and it served as the trigger in exactly half.
In Miami, it was police action once again that provided the tension. The exoneration of it, by an all-white jury in Tampa on Saturday afternoon, May 17, was the trigger. Only this time, it was no trivial incident.
The death of Arthur McDuffie, 33, a black insurance salesman out for a spin on a borrowed motorcycle, was the result of a vicious police beating from which he never regained consciousness.
"His head was like a basketball," his sister said after seeing him in a coma at the hospital last December. "His eyes were swollen out of his head." c
Dade County (Metro) policemen involved in the incident allegedly tried to cover it up by faking a motorcycle accident for McDuffie and claiming that he put p a struggle when they caught up with him after a high-speed chase.
Their superiors, however, spotted inconsistencies, and launched an internal investigation.Some Miami police who were at the scene, one so disgusted that he quit his job the next day after 18 years on the force, spoke up. The Miami Herald learned of the dispute. Formal charges were hurriedly filed after the initial publicity.Justice seemed swift.
Five white Metro officers were accused at the outset, four of them on manslaughter charges, one for allegedly fabricating the evidence. Some of them laughed and smiled as they were booked.
(Miami city police are not to be confused with Metropolitan Dade County Sheriff's or Metro officers. There are more than 20 separate jurisdictions in Dade County, but the Metro police handle all cases involving major felonies except in Miami, Miami Beach, Hialeah and some other incorporated areas.)
Most of the officers had received commendations for their police work. Three of those accused of manslaughter, Alex Marrero, Ira Diggs III and Michael Watts, had been named "Officer of the Month" at one point or another in their careers. But they also reportedly had a history of frequent citizen complaints, internal investigations, or use of force.
A fourth, William F. Hanlon, also charged with manslaughter but later granted immunity to compel his testimony, had gained the nickname "Mad Dog."
The fifth officer, Sgt. Herbert Evans Jr., the alleged "architect of the cover-up," had been criticized by superiors for failing "to assume a leadership posture because of a lack of confidence."
The black community watched and waited. It was already restive over other incidents involving police.
In January 1979, there was the fondling of a 11-year-old black girl by a white Florida highway patrolman after she had been ordered into his police cruiser. He got probation.
In February 1979, five Metro officers on a drug raid entered the wrong house and subdued a black school-teacher who is now suing for $3 million.
In September, an off-duty Hialeah police officer guarding a warehouse shot a 21-year-old black man in the back of the neck after he stopped to relieve himself by the building's wall.
His pants were still unzipped when a fire rescue unit arrived, according to his family. Hialeah police kept the rescue squad from attending to him for up to five minutes, although he was bleeding profusely.
The state attorney's office took seven months to present the Hialeah case to a grand jury. It concluded that the officer was guilty of "negligence," but not of "culpable negligence."
Then, this past February, a grand jury indicted Dade County's black school superintendent Johnny Jones, on grand theft charges after news reports indicated that he had tried to use a special school account to buy deluxe plumbing fixtures for a vacation home.
"Black Miami is bleeding to death," former Miami city commissioner Athalie Range protested in March "Hate is spelled in capital letters all over this county."
Jones was convicted three weeks ago.He still faces another trial on charges of taking kickbacks from a Maryland educational consultant.
"The feeling was that whether he was guilty or not, he was being tried in the press, not the courts," says former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, who was paid several visits to Miami on local issues since last fall. "People said, 'Let's see what happens with McDuffie.'"
The verdicts came at 2:36 p.m. on Saturday, May 17. There were 13 counts. Thirteen intonatiaons of "Not guilty."
The presiding judge, Lenore Nesbitt, who had taken the case to Tampa because it was "a time bomb," apparently had no second thoughts about turning it over to the jurors on a weekend. Later, the foreman, David H. Fisher, would agree that the timing had not been wise. "In hindsight," he told The Miami Herald, "it would obviously have been better to wait until Monday rather than a Saturday."
The rock-throwing started around 6 p.m. in the predominantly black Liberty City section, part in and part out of Miami. A crowd that eventually built to several thousand started to gather outside Metro Police headquarters and kicked in the glass door.
"I watched the McDuffie case and the Jones case on the TV," Aaron Mack, an unemployed 19-year-old high school dropout, said later. "The McDuffie case wasn't on like the Jones thing, but the news carried the McDuffie thing some. You could see that Jones didn't get no justice . . . But they let those polices go and they killed somebody. All Jones was accused of was trying to steal something. You know that ain't right."
Mack wouldn't say whether he did or didn't take part in the rioting, but he looked at it this way:
"The white man ain't been doing us no good. So we didn't do him no good. The white man got the jobs and we don't got no jobs. The white man got everything and we got nothing. It ain't right."
Said Wellington Rolle, a long-time black community activist: "There simply is no direction in this community. People have been talking long and hard about what inflation is doing to us, about unemployment, about the one-way busing that makes our kids have to go to white schools while no white kids are bused in here, and all that stuff. They have been talking, but nobody, I mean nobody black or white, has really done a thing about it.
"All the McDuffie thing did was to make it crystal clear to them that even a middle-class nigger who supposedly has made it can be jumped on, stomped on and done in by the white power structure."
On the streets it was an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, and then some. In the 1967 riots it studied, the Kerner Commission found, all centered on blacks striking out against local symbols of white American society -- authority and property -- rather than against white persons.
Here there was wanton killing. Not sniper fire but open, vicious stomping of innocent victims as the police had allegedly stomped Arthur McDuffie. Running over them as the police had allegdly run over his motorcycle.
The first to die were Benny Higdon, a 21-year-old baker, and Robert Owens, 15, both of Miami, and Charles Barreca, 15, of Hollywood, all on their way home from a fishing trip together. A mob dragged the three whites from their Dodge Dart on NW 62nd Street at 13th Avenue, and beat them with rocks, boards, bottles and a newspaper rack.
Angry blacks kept an ambulance from reaching them as they lay dying in a parking lot on the south side of 62nd Street.Finally, a speeding paddy wagon hurtled into the area and two Miami police sergeants jumped out to load the three victims under a shower of rocks and bottles. The two teen-agers, both freshmen at McArthur High School, were already dead.
Barreca, a straight-A student in geometry and biology, had tire marks on his chest. Higdon, who had married Owens' sister, died two hours later.
Two hours earlier, at partically the same spot, another Dodge Dart had blundered along 62nd Street until a brick smashed through its windshield, sending the car swerving into a 75-year-old black man and a 11-year-old black girl. Her left leg was torn off, her lungs punctured.
The crowd took it out on the three whites in the car, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Kulp and a woman companion, Debra Getman. Police say their assailants ranged in age from 12 to 40.
"There was a cross-section of the whole-community," says Miami Homicide Sgt. Mike Gonzalez. Witnesses reported seeing some young blacks fighting over an ax they wanted to use. Getman managed to get away, but both Kulps are still in comas, after being stomped and pounded by everything from rocks to milk crates. Jeffrey Kulp, 22, had both ears and part of his tongue cut off.
Police arrested a 20-year-old suspect, Frank James, Thursday night and charged him with three counts of attempted murder.
Marvin Dunn, a professor of social psychology at Florida International University and one of a number of blacks who had taken to the streets to try to calm the crowds, apparently saw the Kulps when he arrived on 62nd Street. He thought they were dead.
"They were still being kicked, and the people who were doing it were not children," he said. "They were men in their mid-to-late 20s." He said some talked of having been to Vietnam and spoke of their military training.
Sgt. Gonzalez said, however, that most witnessess reported seeing "teenagers and younger" among the assailants. He is also persuaded that the crowd attacked the Higdon car.
Robert H. Simms. executive director of Dade County's Community Relations Board, doubted that such brutality will repeat itself, and saw it instead as a direct response to the McDuffie killing, which "everyone saw" and read about in vidid detail.
He does, however, foresee some rioting in Miami unless something is done about the underlying causes.
The Kerner Commission said essentially the same thing in 1968. The response more often has been along the lines of the sarcastic observation Mayor Maurice Ferre made last Sunday, the day after the rioting started:
"In 1990, blacks will be living in the same rat-infested apartments they were living in the 1960. And this community will say, 'Take two aspirins and go to bed.' They'll call a CRB [Community Relations Board] meeting, have the archbishop head up the meeting, and say a prayer."
He made the remarks at a CRB meeting.
A week before the rioting, on May 11, The Miami Herald came out with the results of a new poll concerning the latest influx of Cuban and Haitian refugees. It summed up the findings by calling Dade County "the land of the free and the home of the scared."
Dade's 1.6 million population includes 750,040, or 46.9 percent, who are Anglos; 600,000 or 37.5 percent, who are Latins, and 249,960 or 15.6 percent, who are blacks. The Herald survey reported "potentially dangerous disagreement" among the three populations.
According to the poll, almost 7 out of 10 non-Latin whites in Dade County and more than half of Dade's blacks agreed that the area would be better off without the new Cuban and Haitian refugees. The poll said blacks most fear that the new influx will mean longer unemployment lines -- with more blacks waiting.
Some blacks disagree with these conclusions, insisting that supposed black resentment of Cuban refugees for climbing past them up the economic ladder is primarily a concoction of the media and the white establishment. They also say that blacks do resent the much greater difficulties the U.S. government has posed to the immigration of black Haitian "boat people" in recent months than it has to the Cubans.
According to the Herald poll, however, 88 percent of blacks and 86 percent of non-Latin whites agreed that "there are not enough jobs" when asked about the arrival of more Cuban refugees. And 87 percent of blacks and 85 percent of whites again agreed that "there are not enough jobs" when asked about the arrival of more Haitian refugees.
The issue of bilingual education in the schools also has many people -- black and non-Latin white -- upset as the economy becomes more and more skewed toward Latin America. It is harder to get a job if you don't speak both Spanish and English. Business leaders such as R. Ray Goode, president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, say it simply makes good economic sense for the schools to train their pupils accordingly.
"Those South American tourists spend megabucks," he said, "and if you want a piece of the action, you'd better be able to speak Spanish."
Now listen to Pat Adams, a black math teacher in a Dade County public school, who accosted a reporter at a rally in Liberty City last Monday as the rioting simmered down. Dressed in a seersucker sunsuit, her long hair plaited in cornrows, she looked the picture of friendliness, except that she was screeching with anger.
"You have to be bilingual to get a decent job," she said. "Bilingual. We blacks were born and raised here. We laid every brick in this city. But if you don't speak Spanish, you can't get a job. Bilingual -- !"
But all that, and more, comes under the heading of underlying frustrations, the gasoline and not the match. First and foremost, Simms observed, blacks were rioting "because of the white criminal justice system."
It is a fact that, as the Civil Rights Commission's Mary Berry noted on a visit here last week, other cities with egregious cases of alleged policy brutality ought to keep in mind.
As for the level of violence, she thought it unusual, but not novel, not a sign of the '80s. It's happened before. Back in 1943, in racial rioting in Detroit, she said, "the major kick was to get out and beat people. But that was because of a rumor that whites had attacked some young black and killed him. I really think the violence in Miami had something to do with what they think people did to them."