Miami’s racial fires

Arson and rioting mar Super Bowl week

ANDREW BILSKI January 30 1989

Miami’s racial fires

Arson and rioting mar Super Bowl week

ANDREW BILSKI January 30 1989

Miami’s racial fires

Arson and rioting mar Super Bowl week

The timing could not have been worse for Miami. On the evening of Jan. 16, police officer William Lozano stepped into the middle of 3rd Avenue in the city’s mainly black 0vertown section, levelled his gun and fired a single shot from his Glock semiautomatic at a speeding motorcyclist. The officer’s lawyer later said that he fired in selfdefence. The shot hit the unarmed black man in the head and killed him—and ignited a fire of racial strife at a time when thousands of football fans were pouring into the city ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl XXIII. Three nights of burning, looting and shifting scrimmage lines between police and black rioters ensued. Before an uneasy calm settled over Miami last Thursday, about 250 people had been arrested, one had been killed and damage to property was estimated at $1 million. And under the intense glare of national news media, the “Miami Nice” image that city officials had worked diligently to project had quickly reverted to the “Miami Vice” image that they had endured for years.

The bullet fired by Colombian-born policeman Lozano became a symbol for the residents of the impoverished black neighborhood of Overtown, an area of about one square mile just north of downtown Miami. For many of

them, the shooting last Monday—as Americans celebrated the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.—symbolized innate disrespect for their community.

But the rioting that followed reflected more deep-seated frustrations. Some black leaders said residents were outraged by police tactics and long-standing neglect of the black community’s problems by Miami’s Cuban-dominated power structure; many complained that new waves of Hispanic immigrants receive preferential treatment in jobs, housing and social services. Adding to their frustration were recent news reports on the anticipated arrival of thousands of new Nicaraguan refugees from Texas after a federal judge lifted travel restrictions on aliens seeking political asylum. Said Perry Anderson, Miami’s black police chief: “There are legitimate concerns out there that many blacks have been disenfranchised.”

According to police reports, Lozano and another officer were standing by the roadside in Overtown on the evening of Jan. 16. They heard a call on their car radio that a motorcyclist—pursued by an off-duty officer who gave chase when the motorcycle sped past him— was heading in their direction. Lozano stepped into the street and fired, killing Clement Anthony Lloyd, 23, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands

and co-owner of an Overtown car wash. His black passenger, Allan Blanchard, 24, was critically injured when the motorcycle spun out of control and crashed.

Police spokesman Armando Villorin said that it was unclear why Lozano, 30, had opened fire on the unarmed men. The four-year veteran of the force refused to co-operate in the investigation and was suspended pending its outcome. Roy Black, Lozano’s attorney, claimed that the policeman was about to be run down by the motorcycle and acted to save his own life. “He used deadly force in justifiable self-defence,” Black said, adding that city officials were turning Lozano into a scapegoat to salvage Miami’s image. But Marvin Dunn, a community psychologist who coauthored a book on the 1980 riots in Miami—which left 18 people dead and $100 million in property damage—said that the incident was typical of the lack of restraint shown by the police in black neighborhoods. “Police officers would not start shooting at motorists in a white community where there was a chance of hitting women and children,” said Dunn. “But they don’t feel the same constraints in a black area.”

Within hours of the Monday killing, an angry crowd of up to 200 blacks took to the streets of Overtown. They set fire to buildings and cars, looted shops and hurled rocks and bottles at police, television reporters and motorists. Thesiege continued for six hours until hundreds of heavily armed police imposed a blockade on sections of the city.

More violence flared on Tuesday after reports that motorcycle passenger Blanchard, a native of St. Croix who had been in the United States only two months, had died in hospital. A professional basketball game at the Miami Arena on the edge of Overtown was cancelled at the last minute when rioters surged toward the building. Violence spread northwest to the predominantly black Liberty City district, where the 1980 riots were centred. Police battled snipers and bottle-throwing demonstrators with tear gas. Seven people, including one policeman, were injured by gunfire. Later, a black teenager was found shot to death on a Liberty City street, the victim of a dispute with another man over looted goods.

In one harrowing incident on Tuesday in Overtown, a black youth threw a stone at a passing white motorist.

The motorist stopped his car, got out and shot the youth in the leg. As police rushed to the scene, a four-person CTV news crew followed. Robert Hurst, the Canadian network’s Washington bureau chief, attempted to interview some of the black witnesses as bottles flew. But once the police left, said CTV sound man Andre Leclair, “bottles and rocks started flying in earnest.”

As the crew fled toward their van, three were hit by rocks and pieces of cement. They dove into the van and “just as we shut the doors,” said Leclair, “the windows just started to explode.” The three were treated for minor injuries.

Despite appeals for calm by Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, sporadic violence continued until Thursday, when the heavy presence of

police in Overtown and Liberty City appeared to have quelled the uprising. But the unrest had already left image-conscious city officials scrambling to minimize the impact on Super Bowl Sunday. Dick Anderson, head of the Superhost Committee, said that as many as 100,000 out-of-town fans were expected in Miami, generating as much as $180 million in revenues for the area. Anderson insisted that

he had not heard of “a single cancellation” due to the riots. Meanwhile, visiting players from the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals—under intense media scrutiny on the eve of one of America’s premier sporting events— found themselves in the unaccustomed position of having to comment on Miami’s social upheaval. “That is really what life is over there,” said Cincinnati quarterback > Boomer Esiason. “It really |puts this game in

0 perspective.” æ Blacks, who account for

1 20 per cent of the Dade I County population in southx ern Florida, have long re| sented the growing Hispanic s presence, which has doubled—to 44 per cent—in the past 20 years. Cubans

poured into the region in the early 1960s, after the Communist revolution on their island nation 145 km to the south. Another 100,000 settled in Miami following the Mariel boat lift of 1980. Among these immigrants were the political dissidents and hardened criminals that Fidel Castro freed from jails and allowed to set sail for the Florida coast. As a sign of Cubans’ growing social status, Cuban-born Suarez became mayor of the city in 1985.

In recent years, the Hispanic ranks have been swelled by an influx of Central Americans escaping wars and poverty back home. Through a combination of personal enterprise, government assistance and the common bond of Spanish language with their Cuban predecessors, the Hispanic newcomers have thrived in Miami, achieving a level of economic prosperity that is the envy of local blacks.

Recent newspaper reports in Miami about a new influx of Nicaraguans to the region clearly fanned the flames of last week’s riots. Refugees from Nicaragua are illegally entering the United States at the rate of about 1,500 a week, according to Duke Austin, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The influx dates back to July, 1987, when then-Attorney General Edwin Meese ruled that political refugees from Nicaragua— where U.S.-backed contra rebels have been fighting the leftist Sandinista government since 1981—should get special treatment. He said that the immigration service should “expedite Nicaraguan applications for work authorization.”

Most Nicaraguan refugees wade across the shallow Rio Grande on the Mexican-Texan border, report to an immigration office and file papers seeking political asylum. Then they travel to the city of their choice and await a hearing. Federal officials say that for about 80 per cent of them, the destination is Miami. Responding to complaints from city officials in Miami and Los Angeles, last December the immigration service ordered that refugees seeking asylum stay in the Rio Grande Valley while their cases are heard. But as the number of aliens swelled into the thousands—turning sections of such south Texas towns as Brownsville into overcrowded and unsanitary refugee camps—a Federal Court judge overturned the service’s travel restrictions on Jan. 9. Almost immediately, busloads of Nicaraguans began rolling toward Miami, the mecca of anti-Communist Hispanics.

On Friday last week, police began a limited withdrawal from Miami’s black neighborhoods but remained braced for further disturbances. One potential flashpoint was removed when local black activists dropped plans to blockade Joe Robbie Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday in exchange for a meeting with Mayor Suarez. Many blacks said that the only way to defuse tensions was for the city to give top priority to easing poverty, joblessness and rampant crime in the black community. Suarez promised $1 million for economic development, but black leaders said that was not enough. “We’re going to have to deal with long-term solutions and not just sweep under rugs,” said Arthur Teele, a prominent black businessman. For Miami residents of all races and colors, Teele’s words seemed to offer the best hope of peace in a troubled city.