Almost a month ago, a Coral Gables travel agency chartering flights to Cuba was firebombed. The agency had recently helped facilitate the pilgrimage of hundreds of Cuban-American Catholic worshipers and others to Cuba to participate in a papal mass.
The fire department determined that the fire was deliberately set — windows were broken and incendiary devices tossed in. Fortunately, no one was injured. This incident appears to have been not simply a criminal act; it appears to have had a political purpose — violence directed at people in retaliation for their political beliefs or the political effect of their business.
Many people in our community travel to Cuba to visit family members. Nevertheless, doing so is still controversial in South Florida, though less so elsewhere in the country. Those who disapprove of travel to Cuba are, of course, free to express their opposition — but peacefully, within the law. It is their constitutional right to do so.
But what expression of outrage or concern has been heard from elected officials, including members of Congress, and other leaders of our community about this local act of terrorism?
It appeared that Miami had changed. It has been about a decade since the last act of politically motivated violence. But the muted reaction of elected officials and other leaders to this latest incident should be of concern — as much as this latest ugly act of terrorism itself.
In September 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church, an African-American church in Birmingham, Ala., that was at the center of civil-rights activities, was bombed. Four young black girls were killed. The next day, Charles Morgan, Jr., a lawyer (and a friend and inspirational leader of the civil rights movement) delivered a powerful speech to a city business club noting that, “Every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred is at least as guilty as the demented fool who threw the bomb.”
Almost 50 years later, it’s hard not to arrive at a similar judgment about public officials in our own community who, by their silence, seem to tolerate politically motivated violence.
To the extent that we, but especially community leaders, fail to stand up to intolerance, we condone politically inspired violence by silence — and bear some responsibility for it. Howard Simon, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, MiamiJohn DeLeon, president, Greater Miami Chapter, ACLU of Florida, Miami