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Report on the Miami Riot, 1981

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A year after black residents rioted in the streets of Miami, the Ford Foundation issued a report on causes of the disturbance. This article summarizes some of the report's findings.


The riot that broke out a year ago tomorrow in the Liberty City section of Miami differed dramatically from the racial disturbances of the 1960's, according to a study conducted for the Ford Foundation.

In a 48-page preliminary report released today, the anti-white violence in the Miami riot was called "unprecedented in this century." It added that not since the slave uprisings before the Civil War had blacks risen spontaneously with the sole purpose of beating or killing whites...

The way the Liberty City riot started and the way it progressed were also different from the riots that broke out in Watts and Newark in the 1960's, the report says, and the rioters themselves apparently came from a more law-abiding and representative group of residents than those who participated in the earlier racial disturbances...

...[The report stated,] "compared to Miami, the 1960's riots were merely a warning about the hostility that lay beneath the surface rather than the outpouring itself..."

...The riot lasted three days, left 18 persons killed and destroyed some $80 million in property. In the 1960's riots, the study said, the beatings and killings of whites by blacks "occurred always as a byproduct of the disorder, not as its sole object..."

...In the 1960's, according to studies made at the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence, riots began with some incident -- usually by a police arrest or the shooting or beating of a black person -- and then developed into a verbal confrontation between blacks and the police, a time in which the situation might have been cooled down. This was followed by a rock-throwing or "carnival" phase, and finally by looting, burning and killing.

But the study noted that the precipitating incident in the Miami riot, the McDuffie killing, had occurred five months before, and "blacks in Miami seemed willing to give the criminal justice system an opportunity to apply itself" by not taking to the streets.

When violence did erupt, the study says, "it was already too late to stop the riot short of a massive siege." The study contends, however, that the police "read the signals differently" and tried to cool down the situation by pulling patrol cars out of Liberty City, creating "a vacuum that served to increase the violence..."

...In the Watts riot in 1965, about 74 percent of the 3,435 adults arrested had a prior arrest record. In the Newark riots in 1967, 74.2 percent of the 1,169 adults arrested had prior records. In Miami, the study says, "the figures are almost directly the reverse" - only 32 percent of those arrested had prior arrest records.

"A significant number of the Miami rioters were not poor or unemployed or members of the criminal class," the study contends. "Many held jobs and did not otherwise fit the stereotypical image of a 'rioter.'"

...Pointing to other characteristics that Miami shared with other cities where riots have occurred, the study cited a lack of black policemen, a low number of black-owned stores and the election of public officials on an at-large basis, depriving blacks of representation in government.

Particularly galling to blacks was the success of Hispanic businessmen in securing government loans to establish businesses. From 1968 to 1979, the study says, "blacks, whose strength in the population is half as great as that of Hispanics, received only one-seventh what the Hispanics got from the Small Business Administration."

Source: Thomas, Jo. "Study Finds Miami Riot was Unlike Those of 60's." The New York Times, May 17, 1981.

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