Civil Rights became one of the pivotal aspects of American culture during the 1960s following the implementation of the Civil Rights Act 1964. It continued as a key issue throughout the 1970s. As the 1980s loomed, many hoped that the new age of racial equality had dawned, and racial injustices such as the principal of ‘separate but equal’ in American law were past. In reality, the 1980s saw riots, serial murders, muggings, kidnappings, rapes and murders as constant examples of the continuing racial tensions across a divided America.
Whilst racism was rife throughout the whole of America, in Miami, a city with a high percentage of black people of whom many already lived in poverty stricken circumstances, two episodes of civil unrest as a result of perceived racial inequality served as bookends to the decade and highlight the little progress towards true equality that was made during the period.
In April and May 1980, six white police officers were acquitted by an all-white jury in a case of horrific brutality that resulted in the death of Arthur McDuffie, a black father of two who was riding a motorcycle with a suspended licence. Four of the officers had chased and then beaten McDuffie into a coma whilst he was handcuffed and on the ground, and subsequently lied and falsified evidence, with the assistance of two other police officers. Their acquittal was seen as evidence of institutionalised racism and Miami became the backdrop to some of the worst rioting American had witnessed since the Civil Rights movement had taken hold in the 1960s. Over the course of four days, eighteen people were killed, three hundred and fifty were seriously injured, and eight hundred arrests had been made, as well as damage and destruction to the city amounting to $100 million. Many parts of the city had literally been burnt to the ground, and the levels of destruction and violence during the rioting were such that they are still shocking today, for example, with instances of people being deliberately locked into burning cars.
Miami never really recovered. Three thousand jobs were lost as a direct result of the riots. Whilst federal financial assistance was given, it was nowhere near enough for the city to rebuild. Miami spiralled into decline, and thousands of its citizens moved away, adding to the difficulties the city already faced in trying to start afresh.
In January, 1989, just as the city was preparing to host the Superbowl, an event which was to signal new beginnings and draw a line under its difficult past, the city saw yet another spate of rioting which began following an eery reflection of the events of 1980. On this occasion, it was the death of two young black men, 34 year old motorcyclist, Clement Lloyd and his passenger, Allan Blanchard, at the hands of an Hispanic Miami police officer, William Lozano, who was following Lloyd because of an alleged traffic violation, which served as the catalyst to rioting throughout the city. With many press agencies already in town in preparation for the Superbowl, the event quickly made national and international news, and yet again the world woke to images of Miami with burning press vehicles and buildings serving as a backdrop to yet more pictures of looting and violence. Following the deaths, a federal Civil Rights investigation was launched to answer the question of why a black man had been shot dead for speeding, and manslaughter charges were brought against Lozano. In this first trial, Lozano was convicted of the men's manslaughter, however the FBI's efforts were short-lived because the conviction was overturned on appeal with Lozano having served no time in prison.
The Lozano case also left a very significant legacy which would almost certainly impact on the future of American justice in such cases, and perhaps speaks to the question of why, in the twenty-seven years since the Lloyd and Blanchard deaths no prosecutions have ever been brought against white or Hispanic officers whose actions have resulted in the deaths of black people. Following Lozano’s acquittal, Judge Fernandez- Rundle declared that prosecutors would no longer be allowed to inform jurors of information around police procedures and training. This precedent has essentially acted as a carte blanche for officers to use ‘deadly force’ if they believed that they or someone else ‘might’ be at risk from a suspect, with little fear of consequence.
There have been numerous occasions in the nearly three decades since that have reflected the injustices of these cases, but without a doubt, these two events, occurring as they did in the same city under such similar circumstances and marking the beginning and end of the 1980s, highlight the difficulties that existed in the fight for equality throughout the period.