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Sat, 05.17.1980

Miami’s ‘Liberty City’ Riot Occurs

News photo,(New York Times)

On this date in 1980, the “Miami Riot “occurred. This was the first major American race riot since the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

The incident raised American awareness of the sometimes-explosive nature of neglected urban life.  Violence erupted in Dade County, FL, that summer night when people of Liberty City, a predominantly Black neighborhood, learned of the verdict in a case of white-on-Black police brutality.  The acquittal of five white police officers accused of beating a Black motorist to death sparked the violence.

The catalyst for this event occurred in December 1979. Police officers had pursued an African American motorcyclist, Arthur McDuffie, in a high-speed chase. Although the officers claimed that the chase ended when McDuffie crashed his motorcycle and died, the coroner's report concluded otherwise. One of the pursuing officers cleared up the story, testifying that five of his fellow policemen had beaten McDuffie with their flashlights. According to his testimony, the officers murdered McDuffie after he had forcefully resisted arrest. An all-white jury acquitted the officers after brief deliberation.

Furious Blacks threw bricks, rocks, and bottles at white suburban motorists who had to drive through Liberty City to reach a main Miami highway. Adding to the anger, an apparently peaceful protest sponsored by the NAACP failed to produce a speaker.  Soon the discouraged crowd joined in the violence, attacking the Dade County Department of Public Safety headquarters and local white-owned businesses. Miami police and the National Guard restored order with roadblocks and guns.  By the time the rioting ceased the following morning, 855 people had been arrested and $80 million worth of property damage.  In the skirmishes between Blacks and white motorists, eight white people and ten Blacks had died.

For the Miami police, the McDuffie case was one incident in a history of unpunished malfeasance and neglected conditions. The 1980 riot dispelled the illusion that the racially motivated uprisings of the 1960s were a thing of the past.

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