Thirty-five years ago this month, the worst riot in Miami’s history occurred: For three days, its inner city was ablaze as angry residents caused the equivalent of $230 million-worth of damage. Eighteen people were killed.
Their actions were sparked after an all-white jury acquitted four police officers charged in the death of Arthur McDuffie. McDuffie was a black insurance executive who early one morning ran a red light on his motorcycle and ended up being pursued by officers. Eventually McDuffie surrendered, saying “I give up.” But instead of simply being arrested, the officers beat McDuffie to death.
In 2015, it is amazing, and, a little bit depressing, to read what people were saying about the incident then, and to understand how much, and how little has changed.
“It all leads to the feeling that the system is working against blacks and for others…you get a feeling by blacks that nobody gives a damn what happens to us.” — Dewey Knight, black assistant Dade County manager
“It’s like, hey, we are tired of talking…Talk ain’t got us nowhere. Right now we just want to express our frustration and don’t want to talk to anybody.” — unidentified young black woman.
“The black community has made no significant progress here in the past 10 years and may even be regressing.” — T. Willard Fair, Miami Urban League.
“Black businesses are unable to get loans from the city’s banks so there are few businesses that are black-owned. And a recent study said that if conditions don’t change there won’t even be any black businesses here in 10 years.” — Sonny Wright, black real estate agent
“The whites here get upset when I say it, but how can I not say that there’s racism here? My God, until we cross that first bridge how can we expect to solve the problem that is before us? We must repent before we can be saved.” Maurice Ferre, the city’s white mayor at the time.
The neighborhood hardest hit by the incident, Brownsville, was never the same afterward, and part of it was eventually bulldozed for a light rail line.
And Miami would experience three more riots before the decade finished — the last one, in 1989, sparked by the death of another unarmed black motorcyclist at the hands of a cop.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.