The Quiet Riot

A more recent piece of cryptography from the mayor's office took the form of a letter to the editor of the Herald. Suarez's missive - in response to a September 8 editorial that described Miami's leader as "disturbingly quiet, stymied and ineffectual" - began with a quotation from Psalms and ended with a three-paragraph blur of rhetorical questions that seemed to attack the Herald for "haphazard coverage," sensationalism, and "failings in the area of minority empowerment."

Mayor Suarez did speak to New Times about his city's efforts in the field of minority inclusion, but he dodged questions about whether, or how, he planned to respond to the demands of boycott organizers. "I am not giving any quotes on Mandela," Suarez said. "If and when I have anything to say of a unifying nature, I will say it. I think [the boycott] is something important. But I won't comment on it. I won't disclose what I am doing about it."

Metro Mayor Steve Clark has avoided Suarez-style epistles, choosing instead to issue canned quotes through John McDermott, his aide-de-camp. The latest: "H.T. Smith is a friend of mine and an outstanding professional person, and he has a right to his own opinions." But what does the mayor think of Smith's demand for a public apology to the black community from Metro commissioners? McDermott refers questioners to a welcoming address Clark delivered to 10,000 Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters who met in Miami Beach in July, in which the mayor said it was "unfortunate" that the handling of Mandela's visit had engendered ill will.

"They're being silent publicly, but behind the scenes they aren't being silent at all," says local NAACP president Johnnie McMillian. Suarez has tried several times to meet with her in recent weeks to talk about the boycott, McMillian says, one time under the pretext of discussing the S&L crisis.

McMillian says sources in city hall leaked her a copy of a September 13 letter Suarez sent to national NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks, in which the mayor complained of McMillian's refusal to meet with him and criticized her "indictment" of riot police involved in the July 5 protest in Little Haiti. "It is entirely fair for a large segment of any community to withhold their welcome of a foreign dignitary until said dignitary clarifies statements which lend aid and comfort to their oppressor," wrote Suarez to Hooks. "No occasion was ever offered for any official to meet Mandela, extend official greetings, or engage in any private discussion with him." (For Suarez to complain to Hooks was curious, at the very least. More than a month before the mayor wrote him, the national NAACP leader had addressed black Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity members assembled in Miami Beach, saying that he wouldn't be coming back to Dade County anytime soon.)

"Under other conditions I would have been in his office the same day," says McMillian of her refusal to meet with Mayor Suarez. "But it would be presumptuous of me even to give the appearance that I am speaking for the boycott organizers. It is crystal clear who the spokesman for the boycott is, and that's H.T. Smith. Suarez knows that."

Those who have given the appearance of speaking for the boycott have promptly had their attitudes corrected by Smith himself. When the Miami Times reported in August that Black Lawyers Association members Jesse McCrary, Jr., and George Knox had met with business leaders and with Merrett Stierheim, chief of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, to discuss bringing the boycott to an end, Smith quickly issued a statement saying that "the only persons authorized to speak on behalf of the organizers of the boycott are H.T. Smith and Marilyn Holifield."

McCrary, who served as secretary of state under Florida Gov. Reubin Askew and who was the first black to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a Southern state, says the Miami Times report was inaccurate. "I stand behind H.T. Smith 10,000 percent. I am an avid supporter of the movement. I have never met with Stierheim on these matters, nor will I," McCrary declares. "Personally, I think that the public officials are being asinine and have been throughout this whole thing. They are playing petty politics. The events of this summer should have infuriated anybody. It would appear that elected officials would at least have the forum to lead, and leadership is their avowed duty.

"The thing that puzzles me," says McCrary, referring to Miami's recent history of race riots, "is that if this town was burning, everyone would be out front saying, `Let's find a solution,' and, `What caused this?' But at this point no one in elected office wants to come forth and be a leader in this thing. Miami isn't going to burn this time. Dade County is going to bleed. Merrett Stierheim and anyone else who tries to derail this movement will find themselves with serious opposition."

Even within Dade's Black Lawyers Association, there are members who appear to favor a softer line than the one you have taken. How much pressure are you under to keep control of the leadership of the boycott movement? Do you fear the movement is being hijacked?

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