|Arthur McDuffie was beaten to death at the intersection of |
NE 38th Street and Miami Avenue on Dec. 16, 1979 by six
Dade County police officers.
Why Did They Kill Arthur McDuffie?
by Dr. Marvin Dunn
Arthur McDuffie, an unarmed black man was beaten to death by half a dozen white Dade County police officers on the night of December 16, 1979 following a high speed chase through the streets of Miami. His head was split open and the cops tried to cover up what took place. On May 17, 1980 when all of the officers were found not guilty by an all-white jury in Tampa, Miami exploded in riots that left eighteen people dead most of them black. But why was McDuffie, a former Marine with no criminal record, beaten so severely that night and what lessons are to be learned from what happened?
McDuffie was beaten for the same reason that has resulted in more recent deaths of black youths at the hands of the police in other cities.. He showed contempt for the police. He offered a finger to the first cop, Ira Diggs, as he ran through a red light. Digs and several other police units chased McDuffie through the streets of Miami at over 100 miles per hour. When he finally stopped on his own, the adrenalin-fueled police officers attacked him with a vengeance. They probably would have mistreated any man who had made them chase him at 100 miles per hour. But, was McDuffie’s race a factor in the savagery? Certainly it was. I doubt that the life of a white man would have been taken so casually. I believe the cops could have identified with a white or Hispanic victim but not with a black one and certainly not with one who had shown disrespect for the police by fleeing or resisting arrest. Some, if not many, police officers harbor contempt for young blacks. Even some black cops adopt the same attitude of disdain for the “low life” they see themselves confronting every day. The hidden racism and contempt which is ingrained in police culture becomes apparent from time to time such as has just been recently revealed in the Miami Beach Police department’s racist e mails between officers.
Dr. Marvin Dunn
The lesson I take from all of this is that police officers must accept and expect contempt from young blacks. In many instances that contempt is earned. There is no law against showing contempt for a police officer. It’s a bad idea but there is no law against it as long as one cooperates with the police. There IS a law against resisting arrest or fleeing from a police officer. Young blacks who do that take the risk of legally losing their lives. But when a young black man is arrested on made up charges such as happened in Baltimore, that young man’s life is ruined. That arrest record follows him for the rest of his life. In the Baltimore case the cops claimed the man had an illegal weapon when in fact, it was a legal pocketknife. Had he not died in custody he would likely have had problems getting a job for the rest of his life. That is the kind of thing that wrecks the lives of so many young blacks (especially over minor drug charges) and that earns their contempt. The Lesson I take for young black men is don’t resist or run from the police. Arthur McDuffie did that in 1979 and it got him killed. The same could happen to any black man in America today.
After thirty-five years it is time for Miami to recognize this history.
I sent an e-mail yesterday to Tomas Regalado,the Mayor of the City of Miami, asking that historical markers be erected where McDuffie died (Northeast 38th Street and Miami Avenue and at the place in Liberty City where the first white victims were killed (Northwest 62nd Street and 12th Parkway.
I know the mayor to be a fair and reasonable man and I trust that he will take the lead in having the city recognize this history.
Dr. Dunn is a retired assistant professor of psychology and former chairperson of the Department of Psychology at Florida International University.