Two years after it was torn by riots that left 18 dead and $100 million in fire-bombed buildings, Liberty City still suffers from neglect, its people disillusioned by unfulfilled promises made in the riot's afterglow.
Local officials have announced plans to rebuild Liberty City, but most residents consider them just more promises made to be broken. "There's been a complete breakdown of trust in the black community," says the local NAACP president, Bill Perry.
Jobs are still few. Unemployment among adult black males is calculated at 60 percent. Three out of four black teen-agers are said to be hunting work as the summer unfolds in the shadow of a downtown construction boom.
No-exit frustration simmers beneath a hot sun in sprawling Scott-Carver Homes, Liberty City's toughest project, where young men like Clyde Hill, 25, an unemployed Army veteran with missile training, have virtually given up trying to survive by playing it straight.
Even with a high school diploma, an honorable discharge from the Army and electronics training, Clyde Hill has no prospects for work. Laid off from his job with a private garbage hauling company six months back, he'd like to try his hand as a mortician.
He figures it's a profession with a future in the ghetto because "death is really the only thing you can count on around here." A brother makes a living as a pimp.
Indeed, black leaders say the reality of Liberty City is that its Clyde Hills have had no more chance of a break since the riot brought promises of massive federal aid for the smoldering ghetto, now worse off in many ways than it was before.
Miami's 125,000 blacks remain victims of racial prejudice in schools, housing, jobs, business opportunities and criminal justice, according to a controversial study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights two months ago. The report, criticized by some local officials as biased and outdated, accused Miami of doing little to change conditions that led to the riots.
"We've gotten a few new palm trees and some concrete benches," says Bill Perry, referring to $8 million worth of new parks, "but it's only window dressing. Housing is still substandard and deplorable. There isn't even a survival economy. It's surprising crime isn't worse with unemployment as high as it is, school out and teen-agers with no summer jobs."
Liberty City is 7.3 square miles of hard times in the heart of Dade County, which, along with Monroe County, received $76 million in CETA funds in 1980, slashed this year to $16 million. Half as much is expected next year.
Federal job training programs will hire 4,500 metro-area residents this year, down from 11,000 in 1980, when the riot occurred. The riot, the worst in Miami's history, was triggered then when an all-white jury in Tampa acquitted white county police officers charged with murdering a black insurance man after they stopped him for speeding here.
The crisis brought Miami promises of low-cost federal loans from President Carter. A few Small Business Administration loans were made, caught in red tape, and later axed by Ronald Reagan. Hostile state legislators voted down a proposed sales-tax boost to finance post-riot aid and, this year, sliced almost in half $1.8 million for local community centers--the only state aid targeted at inner cities.
Local programs and private business have tried to jump into the vacuum, but officials concede there is no way goodwill and meager funds can make up for federal cuts. Yet, such programs remain Liberty City's only, and some say, last chance.
"If we don't succeed, I'm leaving town because it's going to be too dangerous to stick around," says Newall Daughtry, 34, an ex-Marine who heads the Dade Community Revitalization Board, which aims to create jobs by targeting $5.4 million in high-risk loans to black entrepreneurs.
The money, raised in a recession by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce from white downtown merchants, is designed to create black "success stories" who are expected to hire job-seekers like Clyde Hill.
The walls of Daughtry's "war room" in a Liberty City shopping center, once the scene of riot looting, are lined with maps of 172 empty buildings itching for tenants who want to take a chance. It is all part of an ambitious Chamber of Commerce plan to market the ghetto to industry by offering tax incentives and low-interest loans. White "godfathers" downtown have taken some fledgling black businessmen in tow.
But no loans have been made from the fund, only three new businesses have opened their doors and most development plans remain dreams on paper. As a gesture to show good faith and prop up an anemic black establishment, Dade County has reserved 17 percent of its future contracts for black businesses, an amount proportionate to the minority population.
Yet, such money has been labeled "conscience dollars" by black leaders such as Miller Dawkins, a city commissioner who dismisses the $5.4 million Chamber gesture as "peanuts," little more than a tardy attempt at goodwill. All agree that such efforts can hardly make up for the drastic loss of federal dollars and trickle down fast enough to rescue Clyde Hill and his pals.
"How in the name of God do you expect people to survive when you withdraw federal dollars they depended on?" asks Georgia Ayres, a respected community activist. "Private business has waited until it's almost too late.
"They're going to have to do a hell of a lot more if they don't want another riot . I wouldn't give a plug nickel for Dade County this summer," she adds, if the Haitian and Cuban refugees' dilemmas are stirred into the pot. "You're not just dealing with blacks who feel let down, but other ethnic groups who are suffering from Reaganomics. It's boiled down to survival."
On this day, Clyde Hill debates his options beneath a ghetto eucalyptus tree. A small crowd gathers, kicking up dust. Grass doesn't grow here. Yards are littered with pop tops and trash. There is little evidence of the $9 million the Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to spend to remodel the project.
Flies buzz in and out of torn screen doors. Inside one seedy apartment, Brenda Quinn vows she will march her six children into the supermarket and "feed 'em right off the shelves" if her cut food stamp benefits leave them hungry. "The worst they can do is arrest me for shoplifting."
Outside, war stories from the riots are told and retold, worn like badges of honor: how buildings were torched, cops outrun, liquor stores emptied, TVs stolen, M16s and grenades stockpiled for the next time.
Hill eulogizes a friend who died in a shootout with police. A young girl on crutches hobbles off a school bus. Her leg was amputated after a car lost control and ran her down during the riot.
"Tell the man what you're going to do this summer," Hill orders a slim youth with a gold tooth, who shifts nervously behind the wheel of his mother's burgundy Ford LTD.
"Goin' to look for a job," he says.
"The truth!" demands Hill.
The youth grins. A high school dropout, he figures he can make it snatching purses, boosting cars and moving hot color TVs. "What kind you want?" he asks. "RCA floor model? That'll cost you $300. No problem."
Up the street, young men shoot baskets beneath the glare of lights at a local community center. Several say they are working. Others say they are looking.
Some 3,000 youngsters signed up for 200 summer jobs (down from 1,000 offered last year) by the financially beleaguered J. C. Scott Community Association. Those on the waiting list play basketball--and wait.
"They're only playing to keep their minds off their miseries," says James Love, 53, a counselor for the community association. "When they finish, they'll want a cold soda and to get one, they'll snatch your pocketbook or mine. I can feel the tension already. A lot of young people don't have jobs. It's going to be a long summer."
"Things are worse than they were two years ago," says Gerald Darling, 26, a black officer with the city of Miami's juvenile division. "Kids don't feel they have a future. Few are bilingual, and Hispanic businessmen tend to hire their own. When we were growing up, it was simple to get a neighborhood job. Now it's impossible."
Summer school enrollment at Liberty City's Northwestern High School has almost doubled from last year to 1,100.
"It's not because they've failed, but because there's nothing to do out there," says Assistant Principal John Peavy. Yet, beefy football star Tommy Lamar, 17, snared a $3.75 an hour job spray-painting bird cages. And senior Deborah Trotman, 19, who worked her way through high school shoveling fries at Burger King, advises classmates not to be "choosy" about jobs.
Some small-business men such as Mack Samuel are upbeat. With county and city grants and advice and support from community groups and the Ford Foundation, he dreams of creating a mini-boom by turning an abandoned, graffiti-scared grocery on 62nd Street into a bustling Afro-Caribbean shopping center with a dozen shops.
Others who have fought bureaucrats for breaks are more cynical than ever.
"I'd help burn the place down this time," says Jerry Stone, 39, a white pharmacist and former public-health officer in Vietnam who rebuilt after his drugstore burned in the riot.
Cheered on by a fond ghetto clientele, he used insurance money (which few black businesses can afford) and a $50,000 SBA loan that took months of red tape and headaches to close.
The day after his store burned, city inspectors ordered him to pay $4,500 for rodent control.
He calls conditions in Liberty City "destructive to the human soul."
Yet community leaders have urged police to be aggressive in fighting crime. Once insensitive, police have been praised for an about-face since the riots.
The number of black officers has gone from 8 to 12 percent in the Metro-Dade police department, and the city has upped the number of blacks in the ranks from 13.7 to 17 percent. Brutality complaints are down, and more black cops patrol the streets.
Crime, says Bill Perry, "has brought us closer to the cops. Rather than condemning them," the black community is trying to "win them over by working with them."
Several miles and a world away from Clyde Hill, white business leaders remain optimistic, ticking off a list of plans, touting the hat that has already been passed.
Until this year, "very little had been done to fulfill promises made after the riot," concedes Bill Cullom, executive vice president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. "But we have momentum now. We aim to get the job done. We want blacks in the economic mainstream and we aren't going to stop until it happens."