Miami riot: waking up a year later
The anniversary of Miami's Liberty City race riot calls for the spirit of those enduring words from James Thurber's last book: "Let's not look back in anger, or forward in fear, but around in awareness." The anger and the fear may be tempting, as the death and destruction are remembered and the causes of black frustration are found largely unresolved. But to look around in awareness is to see the beginnings of attitudes and actions that could foster community peace and justice in the future.
According to a new Ford Foundation study, there were probably as many blacks involved in saving whites from harm as in harming whites. But the riot was unusual as a spontaneous uprising against the people --not touched off by an immediate violent incident or involving primarily criminal elements. It came after blacks had apparently waited months for justice to run its course; then they were convinced of continuing injustice when police officers were acquitted of the fatal beating of a black insurance man.
The sense of injustice may have been overriding, but it was added to a pervasive sense of deprivation in economic, social, and political ways as well. A concern now is that the Reagan administration's cutbacks on CETA jobs and other economic programs will make it more difficult to reduce the deprivation. Thus conditions for unrest would remain.
But this is where some of the less publicized aspects of the Liberty City aftermath have to be considered. It seems to have taken Miami a year to wake up , as it was put to us by an editor at the Miami Herald, which has provided such notably thorough coverage of the situation. In some other cities, the business community has been quicker to move toward listening to the needs of the black community and responding to them. Now, however, a board has been set up with business representation. It has the potentiality to move constructively on proposals for economic revitalization plans.
Part of the good news is that individuals have not waited to go ahead with assistance in their own ways. Minority employees of one company, for example, use their own off hours to work with children on how to prepare themselves for job opportunities.
At the same time, there has been progress on some of the recommendations of a governor's panel on the riot. A civilian review board was set up to check on complaints of police brutality, and it has had some effect. There has been a concerted effort to include blacks on jury panels. Strides have been made in minority recruitment for the police force.
And here is one of the unexpected signs of hope in the situation. Has p olice morale been destroyed? Are the police hated? No. There seems to be a fresh community sense of the importance of the police. Perhaps the lower-than-expected turnout for a march marking the riot anniversary was another indication that Liberty City wants to turn away from such tragedy.If enough officials and others continue to look around in aw areness, the 1980 riot will be the last.