By Stephen Goldstein
Ferguson is Florida redux. In Miami, in 1980, after four white police officers were acquitted by an all-male, all-white jury of killing Arthur McDuffie, an African-American, some of the worst race riots in America occurred.
The violence that erupted went beyond the perceived injustice of the verdict and the particulars of the incident. (At trial, the prosecutor said the officers had cracked his skull “like an egg”; McDuffie had even shouted, “I give up.”) The riots were the result of pent-up frustration on the part of the city’s African-American population with patterns of discrimination, violation of civil rights, and economic disparity.
McDuffie, 1980, and the particulars of a single case may seem like a long time ago, but those who feel injustice have long memories, especially in light of harsh realities that persist. Today, much has changed, but too much has stayed the same. Florida remains two states, “separate and unequal” — a cauldron of social conflict ready to explode at the slightest provocation, at any moment.
The first Florida is a cynical myth, the stuff of marketing brochures, a developers’ conspiracy of enticing fiction to make their cash registers ring — the American Dream come true for retirees claiming “the good life,” a vacationers’ paradise from Disney World to Key West, an investment haven for the foreign mega-rich, a business-friendly climate for CEOs who relish playing golf and/or tennis between board meetings and not paying income taxes, the ultimate vitamin D-enriched environment in which to raise a family.
The upbeat goes on ceaselessly, in vapid articles like “23 Reasons Florida … Is Quite Possibly the Best State in America,” in The Huffington Post. Among the alleged positives: “Everyone is jealous of Florida’s weather,” “Florida’s varying landscapes and cultures make it easy to take a weekend vacation without ever leaving,” “Florida has Cape Canaveral, the place that launches spacecraft into the sky,” “The Miami Heat is arguably the best team in the NBA,” “The absolute best stone crabs are in Florida.”
The second Florida trumps the dream world of the first. It is a bitter, brooding reality beyond sugarcoating. Here is a sampling of a litany of indisputable, depressing facts about the second Florida from “The Condition of Florida by the Numbers,” a just-released report from the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy:
1, Florida ranks 49th in the nation in per capita state and local spending for education.
2. The state is 43rd in the quality of services for the elderly, disabled and their caregivers.
3. Florida’s unemployment rate of 6.2 percent in June 2014 exceeds the national rate of 6.1 percent.
4. Florida’s June unemployment rate ranked 29th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
5. As many as 750,000 new jobs would need to be created for the same percentage of the working population to be employed as at the state’s pre-recession peak.
6. The average wage in Florida continues to trail the national rate, and declined further in 2013, to 87.6 percent of the U.S. average wage.
7. The median household income in Florida was $46,071 in 2012, 39th in the nation.
8. The number of Floridians filing for foreclosure during the first half of 2014 was the highest of any state.
9. Florida is the nation’s second most poverty-stricken state, and the number of people living in poverty has increased since 2000.
10. The state is the fifth-worst in income inequality.
11. Florida leads the nation in the incarceration of young people for misdemeanor offenses due to zero tolerance policies.
12. The state’s tax system is the second-most regressive in the nation, hitting low- and middle-income Floridians harder than upper-income residents.
13. Ronald Reagan famously said, “Facts are stupid things.” Instead, he should have said, “only the stupid ignore them.” After nearly 40 years of fact-denying since McDuffie — economic, political, and ideological gobbledygook masquerading as coherent social philosophy — it would appear that Florida is a lot worse than ever.
So, the question isn’t will Florida become Ferguson redux — but when?