MEDIA AND THE LIBERTY CITY RIOTS

 This is about the way a slanted news media can alter the mind-set.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Liberty City riots of 1980, a day that “will live in infamy,” especially for those who were part of the Miami scene then.

I was. And so were three thousand Metro-Dade police officers, plus hundreds of firefighters, rescue personnel, municipal police officers from Miami, El Portal, Miami Shores, Coral Gables and so on, all of whom were under fire, their lives in danger.

Yet, news accounts speak only about the outrage of black residents who were up in arms (rightfully) over the acquittal of four cops on trial for the beating death of Arthur McDuffie, as though no one else suffered.

It was a tragedy, indeed. McDuffie was a motorcyclist who led a dozen cops on a high speed chase through the streets of Miami for over eight long minutes at one o’clock in the morning. When he stopped, some of those cops lost control and beat the man to a pulp, then dented his bike to try and make it look like an accident. He was pronounced dead four days later. As Homicide captain, I was named chief investigator.

Two weeks later, I arrested five officers for his murder.

On May 17th, the same day that Mount St. Helens erupted in the State of Washington, the officers on trial were found “Not Guilty” by an all-white jury. Early that evening, some Miami citizens were driving home from work when they were trapped at traffic signals by bands of hoodlums, rocking cars until they turned over, then torturing the white people inside, cutting the tongue out of one, beating some to death. The riots ended with eighteen innocent citizens brutally murdered, more than 250 injured and multi-millions of destruction to businesses and buildings in the black community.

The media portrayed the victim as an insurance agent, and former Marine, who simply didn’t stop for the police. The attached Miami Herald article makes reference to his bereaved widow. While he certainly didn’t deserve his fate, the media played to the sympathy of local residents by failing to tell the whole story, that Mr. McDuffie had been spending time with another woman that evening, had marijuana in his system, and was driving with a suspended license, the probable reason he didn’t pull over. Insurance agent? Try: unemployed. He worked for an insurance company previously.

The newspapers didn’t talk much about the victims of the riots, or the risks that civil servants were taking to fight the insurgency, the volleys of sniper shots that were fired at cops and rescue personnel trying to save lives. They failed to mention that this was nothing more than a large group of organized hoodlums that used an excuse to create mayhem, and that they did not represent the majority of the black community at all. Nor did they seek revenge against the white establishment by burning their communities, instead they burned their own.

Neither did the media (print and television) take any responsibility for stoking the fires of retribution, citing the McDuffie killing as the constant lead story, heavily leaning public sympathy against the police as “racists” because they happened to have been white and the victim happened to have been black.

When I attended a community meeting some weeks later, no one wanted to hear me say that this was not a racist induced crime, because in fact, several within this group of officers had established a history of being physically abusive to all walks of society, including white and Hispanics, not only blacks. I told them that if the same circumstances prevailed, including the harrowing eight-minute inner-city chase, that the same thing would have happened if the biker had been a white or Hispanic man. They didn’t want to hear that, because I was defusing the trigger for more Story. The infusion of “racism” into the story fires the anger, the emotion, the hate and the response. It sells.

I don’t mean to diminish the suffering of Mr. McDuffie and his loved ones. He was truly a victim. But, the riots of thirty-years ago today, were as much the responsibility of The Miami Herald and other news outlets, as it was the angry insurgents.

That’s why people like me — especially career cops — look at sensational news stories with a cynical eye. There’s always another side.

Click here: Memories of Liberty City riots fade,