Miami residents and civic leaders praised for avoiding violence after Lozano verdict

May 30, 1993|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

MIAMI -- In the end, it was the people of Overtown and Liberty City who kept the peace.

The rainy weather helped. Preachers helped. An omnipresent police force, no doubt, had something to do with the relative calm in Miami this weekend.

But the people's levelheadedness was the main reason why the black neighborhoods of Overtown and Liberty City did not explode into violence after William Lozano, a Hispanic Miami policeman, was acquitted in the 1989 deaths of two black motorcyclists, activists and residents said yesterday.

"We found that we have grown up," said the Rev. Freeman Wyche of Liberty City Church.

"We don't plan to burn our homes and businesses or anybody else's, because that does nothing but bring death and destruction and a lot of funerals and grief."

Police kept a watchful eye on Dade County's black neighborhoods yesterday but reported nothing approaching a disturbance.

Rage ripped through those communities Friday evening after Mr. Lozano's acquittal by an Orlando jury.

Scattered reports of violence followed: A man whose car was hit with a rock was hospitalized with a broken jaw. Another man, dragged from his car, was beaten. Ten people were arrested after trying to ram a police station with a burning garbage container. But police remained firmly in control of the streets.

Police arrested 62 people in connection with the disturbances Friday and early yesterday. Charges included battery on a police officer, throwing a deadly missile and carrying concealed firearms. But these were the acts of a few, not a reflection of the community.

In recent months, community activists took to the streets. The strategy, Mr. Wyche said, was simple: Let people vent their frustrations before the trial and they will be less likely to react with violence.

"There was anger, but people knew how to deal with it," said Mr. Wyche, a member of the African American Council of Christian Clergy.

As he strolled along Northwest Third Avenue near the Nu Lounge, Bert Whitney, 64, who has lived in Overtown for four decades, put it differently.

"What are they going to burn?" he said. "There's nothing here."

Four times in the 1980s, residents of Miami's Overtown and Liberty City areas went on deadly rampages, burning cars and pelting motorists with rocks and bottles.

Police officials credited the clergy for reaching black residents with a message of peace. Police power on the streets only emphasized the community activists' appeal for calm, said Miami Lt. Michael Gross.

John Due, director of black affairs for Metro-Dade's Department of Community Relations, praised the efforts of police and preachers.

"The black community is very angry, but the only reason it hasn't resulted in spontaneous violence is that people have learned they only hurt themselves when they react destructively," Mr. Due said. "And they now know they have other remedies."

The possibility that Mr. Lozano may be tried on federal civil-rights charges has heartened some black residents, Mr. Due said. Many also said they hope that the Miami Police Department will bar Mr. Lozano from returning to his job from a suspension, on the ground that he violated police procedures.

As Mayor Xavier Suarez relaxed at home yesterday, he said his city had not done as well as he had hoped. But it did better than many expected.

"I was incredibly optimistic," the mayor said. "I don't think we got a perfect grade, but I'll give us a 90. It's not a 100, but hey, it's still an A."

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