Miami has ingredients for rebuilding black-white trust
Two rebuilding tasks lie ahead in Miami after the two days and nights of riots in black communities here. The first few steps toward both tasks have begun:
1. The physical rebuilding. Some 150 structures were either looted or burned. County officials estimates the loss, including inventories, at nearly $ 60 million. Adding lost payroll, lost tax dollars, and other costs, the total could reach $200 million, officials say, making it one of the costliest riots in United States history.
2. Rebuilding trust and cooperation between the black community and the rest of the city. This, in the opinion of many civic leaders, black and white, is the more important task -- and the more difficult one.
Yet, in dozens of interviews with blacks and whites -- leaders and ordinary citizens, in the riot area and elsewhere -- this correspondent discovered deep and genuine hungering for peace and better race relations in Miami.
But this reservoir of good will which survived the violence must be nourished quickly if it is to flourish, it is generally felt, and there must be some very specific progress.
"We are tired of a lot of talk," a local black man told Benjamin Hooks, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who came to the city after the rioting began.
Most blacks did not participate in the violence -- although most blacks and whites here understand why it occured. (According to a number of black youths interviewed, many families are snapping up looted goods at low prices from the looters.)
Now the black leadership -- and many other blacks contacted here -- are anxious to rebuild, to repair the damage, to improve relations.
As a minority of less than 15 percent in Dade County, which includes Miami, blacks have little choice but to try to reopen bridges of communication with the rest of the community.
"I love America," Maurice Jackson, a black community activist in one of the rioted areas, said the first night of the riots. What is needed, he said, is not violence but to "organize, mobilize, coordinate, and educate blacks." Getting out the black vote remains a key priority, he said.
One specific step taken toward rebuiling trust between blacks and the police and court systems is the opening of a federal probe here into some 14 cases of alleged police brutality against blacks.
The physical rebuilding task is beginning, too.
Clean-up of many looted stores is under way, but many other buildings are beyond repair, due to fire damage.
The Small Business Administrator has begun receiving applications for low-interest emergency loans for reconstruciton and repair costs on uninsured buildings. Many business owners could not get insurance because they are in "high-risk" areas. Now there is no certainty how many business owners, especially whites, will even want to remain in the community.
Riot damage has cost the area in estimated 3,000 jobs. The Jewish Federation and several corporations have begun locating jobs to offer some of those persons who are out of work.
But more is needed, black leaders say. A comprehensive "Marshall Plan" -- including job-training and improved housing in the riottorn area -- is required, says T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami. "Anything less than that one serves only a cosmetic effect," he says.
So far there is no evidence that such a long- range federal effort will be made.