Black-Hispanic Confrontation Cooled After Meetings
MIAMI (AP) _ About 300 blacks protesting the alleged beating of a Haitian immigrant encircled a store owned by an Hispanic man during a tense, daylong confrontation ended when city officials promised talks with Haitian leaders.
The protesters, mostly Haitians, had gathered for the second day at the store near Miami’s Little Haiti section where an altercation occurred Friday between a Haitian shopper and the store’s Hispanic employees.
Conflicts between blacks and Cubans over Thursday’s visit of South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela appeared to have contributed to the tension.
The protesters, many of them Haitians, appeared around noon at the store in the Biscayne Plaza Shopping Center. They shouted ″Mandela 3/8″ ″Castro, come get your Cubans,″ and called for racial justice.
About 75 riot police blocked off entrances to the mall and guarded the store with owner Luis Reyes and two others barricaded inside.
The protesters dispersed at about 9:30 p.m. after Miami Police Chief Perry Anderson promised to meet with Haitian leaders Monday.
″This has been a historic day in Miami. There will be no more beatings of innocent Haitians here,″ said the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian exile leader who led negotiations between Anderson and the crowd.
Anderson and Miami City Manager Cesar Odio said they told Reyes he was better off closing his Rapid Transit Factory Outlet until racial tensions in the area are eased.
″It would be healthy for him, for his own safety, and considering 95 percent of his customers are Haitian, he’s not going to sell very much anyway,″ Odio said.
The demonstrators complained not only of the beating and the Cuban snub of Mandela, but also about preferential treatment given illegal Cuban immigrants, most of whom are given quick entry to American society. Many Haitians are shipped home or kept in the Krome Avenue Detention Center.
Anderson said he had talked with the alleged beating victim, Abner Alezi, who said he was angered because the employees he claimed beat him were not arrested. The chief said he advised Alezi to file a complaint with the state attorney’s office.
Alezi, 44, entered Reyes’ store Friday and allegedly fought with Hispanic employees over why some pants he had ordered altered were not ready.
Reyes called police and Alezi left, but was arrested outside the store along with three other people, said police spokesman George Law.
Haitian radio commentator Pierre Alcindor later called Haitians to a protest, and several hundred people descended on the store. Police later released Alezi and two of the others who had been arrested.
Lloyd Majors, assistant director of the Community Relations Board, said the disturbance Saturday capped a difficult week for race relations in Miami.
″It seems like it’s unending,″ Majors said.
Black and Hispanic relations were aggravated by disputes over Mandela’s visit, which drew protests from Cuban-Americans.
Cuban-American mayors, including Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, refused to issue a proclamation in Mandela’s honor because of his support for Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Black leaders called the official boycott a slap in the face.
Tensions between blacks and Hispanics mounted during the trial of Colombian-born officer William Lozano, found guilty of manslaughter in December for the deaths of two blacks, an episode that had led to race riots.