Rage, riots and racial tension overwhelmed the streets of Liberty City and Overtown 37 years ago – in what's remembered as the McDuffie riots. The unrest was sparked by the trial against four white Miami-Dade police officers who were charged in the beating death of black insurance agent Arthur McDuffie.
The officers were acquitted on May 17, 1980 and that verdict fueled the fire that erupted in Liberty City and Overtown. For several days, riots wreaked havoc in the once-thriving community; properties and many businesses were destroyed.
Community activist William DC Clark vividly recalled those dark days.
“A lot of tension in the air, we knew that things weren't going to go well and that the frustration will eventually spill out into the street,” said Clark.
Eighteen people were killed and 400 others were injured. PBA President John Rivera worked for Miami Metro and was patrolling during the unrest.
"For the next three days really, I mean it, really was one what one could easily describe a war zone," said Rivera.
McDuffie Riots in Miami Started 37 Years Ago
McDuffie was badly beaten after he was involved in a police chase. He was in a coma for several days until he subsequently died. Following the riots, Liberty City suffered greatly as businesses remained closed or left the area.
Now, 37 years later, the predominately black community is experiencing a rebirth of sorts. The City of Miami broke ground Wednesday for a $307 million revitalization to the Liberty Square Rising Development. Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Audrey Edmonson were among the group of community leaders who gathered for phase one of the Related Urban Initiative. The project is expected to construct over 1,400 new housing units and create jobs with a high percentage going to residents living in the community.
"When it's all said and done all of the residents that are here, can stay here, plus we're going to be adding another 800 affordable workforce housing units because we know that's a need, too,” Mayor Gimenez said.
Leaders of the redevelopment project say it will take about five years and residents will only be relocated within the Liberty Square community.
"You will have a place to that you can say I can come home and be proud," said Commissioner Edmonson.
Developers say the project will also include 24-hour surveillance security and new community centers.