There is a name that isn’t often mentioned any more when we remember those who have been murdered by the police. Perhaps it happened too long ago. But this week, in the middle of the George Floyd murder trial, I feel called to share a piece of history that I hold.
Remembering Arthur McDuffie
by Ruth Neuwald Falcon, Seattle, Washington
In December 1979, Arthur McDuffie, 33, an insurance agent and former Marine, borrowed his cousin’s motorcycle. Late at night, he ran a red light in Dade County. No one will ever know his motivation (though it is easy to imagine) for trying to get away when the police went after him, because he died from the brutal beating he received at the hands of up to a dozen cops at the end of the high-speed chase that ensued.
In a foreshadowing of the Rodney King case, the trial of the four police officers that were indicted was moved from Miami to Tampa. McDuffie Death: It Seemed to Be Open-Shut Case read the headline in The Washington Post on May 21, 1980, shortly after acquittals came down. Three days of rioting followed, during which 17 were reported dead, over 1,000 arrested and the area faced so much destruction that it was declared a disaster zone.
In June of that year, I quit my job at the video postproduction company where I had worked for the past seven years and went to CBS to edit the documentary being put together from images of Mr. McDuffie’s shattered head, interviews with his family, police and others, and footage from the trial. It was the early days of cameras being allowed in the courtroom. There was no central place where all the footage was saved, so we had to piece the story together from the fragments on news reports and tapes tucked away in local stations’ film libraries.
Six weeks later, on August 27, 1980, CBS Reports: Miami—The Trial That Sparked the Riots aired. I finished dropping in the final shots, of Arthur McDuffie’s head split open (I had avoided confronting those as long as I could), sixteen hours before it went on the air. I am proud of the Emmy I won for my work, but more than that, I am proud that it was awarded to me for this film.
Not being able to find that anyone else had put it up on the web, I have taken my VHS copy and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. It is history worth remembering, as is the name of Arthur McDuffie. In tomorrow’s post, I will share links to the program’s four acts, as well as some details about each.