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5/15/05 - Miami Herald
THE McDUFFIE RIOTS 25 YEARS LATER
In May 1980, Miami erupted in anger and grief when four white police officers were acquitted in the killing of black insurance agent Arthur McDuffie
BY AMY DRISCOLL
The Miami intersection that marked the end of Jeffrey Kulp's life and
the beginning of the city's worst riots doesn't warrant a second glance
The Liberty Square housing project is still there, low-slung buildings
with neat metal fences that betray nothing of the human toll exacted in
1980. Up the road, the looted Pantry Pride supermarket is an empty
shell, gone. So are many of the small businesses that used to line 62nd
Only a sign at 62nd and Northwest 17th Avenue that proclaims ''Arthur
Lee McDuffie Avenue'' offers an outward clue to the ferocity that
erupted along there 25 years ago, sweeping through the city's black
communities with a rage that would cripple Miami for years, even
Four white police officers were acquitted by an all-white jury in the
death of McDuffie, a black Miami insurance agent. McDuffie, a former
Marine, had been fatally beaten while handcuffed after a police chase
by a group of white police officers, who then tried to cover it up as
an accident. The verdict, coming as the black community's relationship
with law enforcement reached an all-time low, sent people pouring into
the streets. A three-day rampage of fury and grief followed, escalating
with frightening speed in Liberty City, the Black Grove, Overtown and
Brownsville, killing 18 people, costing 3,000 jobs and causing $100
million in damage.
Kulp, 22, was one of the first victims, a white man stumbling into the
disturbance. He was beaten, shot, stabbed and run over by another
motorist after a car driven by his brother veered out of control and
hit a young black girl on 62nd Street.
''You had very, very angry people on the streets during those years,''
said Robert Simms, director of the Community Relations Board in 1980.
'By the time McDuffie happened, the precedent was set: `When
politicians start messing with us, let's get it on.' The verdict was
seen as an injustice. And so the riots in 1980 were on.''
Even with 25 years of perspective, the magnitude is still stunning.
Cars burned with victims inside, and black plumes of smoke could be
seen 15 miles away. A curfew covered 52 square miles, with lawlessness
reaching all the way to the Metro Justice Building downtown, where a
rally turned into more rioting. Police cars were torched, the National
Guard was called in, and an entire country watched the hellish panorama
that was the Miami skyline.
Years of rebuilding efforts would bring about only faltering change in
the areas worst hit. Poverty continues at much the same level: 38
percent of the residents of Model City -- an area that overlaps Liberty
City -- lived in poverty in 1980, and 20 years later the rate was 44
percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
Population loss also drained the areas most affected by the riots.
Model City's population of 45,000 dropped to about 33,000 five years
ago. Overtown showed similar flight: A population of about 11,000 was
down to fewer than 9,000 by 2000.
For years, Agnes Thomas, owner of Thomas Produce Market on 62nd Street,
has been one of the hopeful holdouts, still trying to lure customers to
the open-air market with piles of glistening greens, mounds of oranges,
crates of melons.
She and her husband, Reginald, bought the market in 1979, months before
the riots, and she has been trying to keep it open since her husband
died last year. But business isn't good.
''The families are all gone,'' she said. ``Since the riots, they tore
down the apartment buildings and left empty lots. Used to be I'd have
to keep my eyes open; kids would be running in and out. Not anymore.''
It used to be that there was a dry cleaner next door, several gas
stations on the corners, mom-and-pop stores within walking distance.
''You could walk to buy shoes,'' Thomas said. ``Now, even the filling
stations are closed up.''
From her seat behind the counter, she can see across the street, where
some of the earliest unrest broke out.
''I was right here when it happened,'' she said. ``I stayed inside
until my husband told me to go home. But he stayed to watch the place.
I remember it like it was yesterday.''
Even though her two sons run the business these days, the 85-year-old
owner says she has decided to put the market up for sale.
''It's a shame,'' she said. ``My husband wanted to hold on until the
area came up again. But it just doesn't seem to be getting any better.''
While the economic assessment may be bleak, according to many, strides
have been made in other areas. Policing has improved, most agree, with
training to bridge cultural differences, and more black police officers
have been hired and promoted.
Georgia Ayers, a born-and-raised Miamian at the forefront of police
community-relations training since 1965, when she complained about
police sending their dogs after blacks, said the training has helped.
But maybe not enough. Decades of programs held out as solutions for the
worst-hit areas nearly always seem to trail off without accomplishing
much, she said.
''Could I see it happening again sometime?'' She didn't ponder the
question for long. ``It wouldn't be all that surprising to