Sunday, May 16, 2010

30 years since the last race riots

One of Miami's epochal moments flickers out of the collective memory on this street in Liberty City, just like the neon sign above Floyd's Dry Cleaners.

"McDuffie? Was he the one riding a motorcycle?" said Gerta Doreus, who now co-owns the business. "I've heard about things here and there, but I don't know much about it. Something about riot."

Doreus' business is on a 20-block stretch of Northwest 17th Avenue of vacant lots blocked by barbed wire, new housing for low-income seniors and shuttered businesses that were revived as churches. In 2003, that street was christened Arthur Lee McDuffie Avenue.

Yet 30 years after the name ignited a riot that left 18 dead and transfigured this neighborhood, "McDuffie" is little more than an identifying marker in a neighborhood where every major street is co-named. Many who live in the area don't know his significance to Miami's history. Efforts to rejuvenate the area have had only sporadic success.

There's a whole industry of civil rights activists and community organizers whose jobs depend upon finding evidence of continuing discrimination, racism and social injustice. But, it's worth noting that we've gone more than a generation since the last race riots.

It would be nice if someone in government or media occasionally applauded our progress, rather than constantly discussing "how far we have to go".

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