Flashback Friday: Police excess and urban violence in Florida

Below I will chronicle several incidents of law enforcement excess towards African-Americans in the state of Florida since 1980. This is not meant to provoke a “race war” in the comments section but is intended to raise awareness about what has transpired in this state through the years for those who may not know the history. Any out of line comments will be deleted and the IP address will be logged for future reference. Thank You.  – Kartik

Florida’s history with Civil Rights is difficult. This is a state which through much of the early 20th Century has more lynchings per capita than any other state in the union. It was a state that gave us Rosewood and the “Groveland Four.” But by 1960, Florida was the most urban state in the south and by 1980 it was one of the most urban states in the county. The Civil Rights movement shifted to large urban areas and the excesses of the political class and law enforcement also shifted to big cities.  Keep in mind prior to the 1970’s violence in southern cities was almost always initiated by whites towards blacks, such as the infamous 1866 Memphis riots. It was not just in the rural south where whites exhibited violence towards blacks.

1980 is where our narrative begins.

In 1980, the City of Miami erupted with the worst urban riots in the United States since the Watts riots of 1965. But what led to these riots was an unjust “not-guilty” verdict in the trial of several police officers accused of killing Arthur McDuffie. The trial which was moved from Miami to Tampa featured an all-male and all-white jury. Below is a detailed look back at the events that led to the riots including a look at the history of Overtown BEFORE the building of I-95 destroyed the once vibrant African-American neighborhood. The video below is from the PBS Series “Eyes on the Prize” which I first watched in High School in the early 1990s and have watched several times since. Narration is by Julian Bond.


In 1989, Overtown erupted thanks to the murder of young black motorcyclist. At the time I was a 9th grader in Coral Springs and remember every detail of the coverage of these riots vividly. Despite the “liberalism” of the news media a presumption was made that African-American protests that eventually spread to Liberty City and Cocount Grove was somehow unjust. Riots are never a good remedy for these sorts of excesses, but racially polarized Miami where the McDuffie and Overtown disturbances served as bookends for a decade where African-Americans were repeatedly treated as third class citizens in a city and county which was incredibly corrupt and subsisting largely on drug money.

Rioting takes places when a group of people are completely disaffected from the political process and societies benefits. Between 1980 and 1990, portions of the city of Miami erupted violently on four different occasions. This happened because of arrogance, indifference and corruption that plagued the city and Dade County throughout the decade.

In 1996, days before the Vice Presidential debate was due to occur in St Petersburg, the city erupted thanks to another case of law enforcement excess. The responsible officers were eventually inexplicably cleared of all charges and the city erupted again.

The capture of the Florida House by the Republicans less than a month after these urban disturbances led directly to more guns on the streets in Florida and quite possibly to more white on black violence in the state. The Trayvon Martin case crystallized the issue for many. George Zimmerman,  a troubled and an untrained “officer of the law” used the worst types of racial stereotyping to act against young Martin. But his actions were not terribly different than what trained officers of the law had done in this state on repeated occasions since 1980.

Florida is nowhere near racial harmony. Quite honestly this is not a partisan issue. When Charlie Crist was a Republican he was better on actually acting on Civil Rights issues than the vast majority of white Democrats in this state. Today, many Republicans continue to feel more strongly about these issues than some Democrats. I know many in the progressive community simply do not want to believe this is the case, but in many instances Republicans have proposed things that would help African-Americans in this state. Of course, Democrats on the whole are a better party on Civil Rights issues.

However, the one issue where the GOP has really allowed racism to take hold is with the push for more guns and legislation like “Stand Your Ground.”  In time let us hope we can all work together to change things in this state in a way where everybody feels equal and lives in harmony.

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