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Puerto Rican Leaders Say Community Looking for Respect With AM-Miami Rampage, Bjt

December 5, 1990

MIAMI (AP) _ Once again, an ethnic Miami neighborhood erupted, pent-up frustrations sparked by a single incident. This time, though, it was in a community seldom heard from.

″This is singular for the Puerto Rican community, but not singular for Miami,″ said Puerto Rican-born Maurice Ferre, who was mayor for 12 years.

″It seems to be a pattern now for behavior in the poor, disadvantaged neighborhoods of Miami - black, Haitian, Puerto Rican,″ he said.

Ferre referred to a rampage Monday night in the city’s largely Puerto Rican community of Wynwood after the acquittal of six police officers accused of fatally beating Puerto Rican drug dealer Leonardo Mercado.

As with members of other ethnic groups after earlier disturbances, some Puerto Ricans on Tuesday talked of neglect by Miami’s dominant Cuban-American population.

Puerto Rican flags were waved during the disturbance and there were shouts of ″Viva Puerto Rico 3/8″ from members of an ethnic group that’s had a low Miami profile.

″We want the people to know that we exist. We’ve got Puerto Ricans in this city, too,″ said Clemente Montalvo, who said he’s lived all his life in Wynwood. ″It’s not just because of the Mercado trial. Cubans get everything, we get nothing. When the Cubans jump, they get what they want.″

Ferre and other community leaders said the reasons behind the outbreak were complex. They said many of the looters were youthful opportunists, and many weren’t Puerto Rican or from Wynwood.

Ferre was mayor in 1980 during Miami’s worst riots, which followed the acquittal of white police officers in the beating death of black insurance salesman Arthur McDuffie. The rioting claimed 18 lives and caused more than $100 million in damage.

Black rioting broke out three other times in the 1980s, most recently the January 1989 riots following the deaths of two blacks after a police shooting.

Last July, Miami riot police moved in after four days of violent Haitian protests at a shop owned by a Cuban-American accused of mistreating a Haitian in his store.

The rioting Monday stunned police, city officials and many in the Wynwood community, where Mercado had once lived.

Ferre said such disturbances are waiting to happen in urban areas where people feel helpless economically and politically.

″Somebody pushes somebody in a store. There’s a perception of an injustice. It’s an explosion,″ said Ferre, who comes from one of Puerto Rico’s most influential political families and led Miami until 1985, when he was ousted by the city’s first Cuban-born mayor, Xavier Suarez.

Wynwood was one of the first large Hispanic neighborhoods in Florida in the post-World War II era, populated mainly by Puerto Rican migrant workers. There are now an estimated 55,000 Puerto Ricans in the Miami metropolitan area, compared with more than 600,000 Cubans and more than 100,000 people each in the Nicaraguan and Haitian communities.

Wynwood has become more diverse in recent years, though the Puerto Rican influence is obvious with Roberto Clemente Park, named for the late Puerto Rican-born baseball star, and several stores with the name ″Borinquen,″ the island term for Puerto Ricans.

Drugs and poverty have increased, longtime residents said.

″It’s changed quite a lot, to the negative side,″ said David Bonilla, who lived there from 1955 and is the Puerto Rican-born Miami city police chaplain.

Bonilla said the outbreak involved many outsiders and wasn’t a true reflection of Wynwood. But he said some Puerto Ricans were using the attention to seek help for their deteriorating community.

″Some of these people want to let somebody know that we need help in the community,″ Bonilla said. ″They say, ‘Hey, while the cameras are here, everybody’s here ...’ ″

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