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Overtown Violence Worst Since Liberty City

MIAMI -- After 18 people died and 116 businesses were looted and burned in three days of rioting in Liberty City two years ago, civic leaders warned that violence could break out again in Miami.

Hundreds of blacks, angered by the police shooting of a 21-year-old courier in a video game room, went on a rampage Tuesday night and Wednesday in a 105-square-block area of the Overtown ghetto, torching cars, looting businesses, throwing rocks and bottles and shooting at police.

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The Overtown violence was the worst in Miami since the Liberty City riots in May 1980, which caused more than $100 million in property damage over a 9-square-mile area.

The Liberty City riots, like the outburst just 2 miles away in Overtown, were sparked by what the black community perceived as brutality by white police officers.

On May 17, 1980, four white policemen were acquitted by an all-white jury in Tampa, where the trial had been moved, of the beating death of black businessman Arthur McDuffie. McDuffie was killed four months before when the patrolmen caught him after a high-speed chase through Miami streets. McDuffie had been speeding on a motorcycle.

Just hours after news of the acquittal was made public, hundreds of blacks flooded Liberty City streets, randomly attacking businesses and white motorists passing through the area.

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The riots were blamed specifically on the McDuffie acquittal but civic leaders said the high unemployment rate among blacks in Miami's ghettos was the real cause.

The Overtown violence was triggered by what police described as an accidental shooting of Nevell 'The Snake' Johnson, in a video arcade.

A U.S. Civil Rights Commission report issued earlier this year said the social causes -- high unemployment, inadequate services, inflation - underlying the unrest had not improved.

The study, released in June, blamed the Liberty City riots on the failure of government and civic establishment to meet the needs of local blacks.

And in the wake of the Overtown violence, community leaders blamed economic conditions as much as the police shooting.

Ivey Kearson, director of the Overtown Jobs Program, said Wednesday unemployment in the area is 50 percent or higher.

'Most of the people here, they don't see anything happening for them and their neighbors and the guy down the street,' he said. 'It's not just going to be in Miami and it's not going to just be blacks. People feel they have to react violently.'

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