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Covering the McDuffie riots in high heels

I hear on WEDR radio that a Tampa jury has just found five white and Hispanic cops not guilty of beating a young black Miami motorcyclist to death.

It is early afternoon on a mid-May Saturday in 1980, with lots of daylight left for simmering anger to boil over.

I am new to Miami, assigned to the Herald’s Neighbors office in deep South Miami-Dade. But the McDuffie beating and trial have consumed the community. When I hear Jerry Rushin on the radio begging everyone to behave, I realize this is big. Although I’m in a flowery sundress with spaghetti straps and sandals with three-inch heels, I know I should go into the newsroom.

I quickly get an education in Miami’s volatile racial politics from veteran reporters before City Editor Mike Baxter hands me a giant walkie-talkie with instructions to check in, and dispatches me to Liberty City.

That radio would be my only link to the City Desk. It would also almost get me killed.

A crowd gathers at a corner grocery store. I notice young men buying sodas. They dump the drinks, then fill the bottles with stolen gas to make flaming weapons, tossing them at unsuspecting motorists on Northwest 22nd Avenue.

At some point, a muffled voice comes over the walkie-talkie. “Pat Andrews! Come in, please! Pat Andrews!”

The young men think I am a cop and come after me. I take off, then realize I’m in heels, and running into a dark area.

Cluelessness quickly turns to survival.

“I’m a Miami Herald reporter!” I shout, whipping out my ID. “I’m here to report your story!”

One young man demands a closer look. Then, anger pours out — at the police, the media, the justice system, unemployment.

They quickly line up to give their points of view.

I finally call the City Desk with the information I’ve just gathered from the streets. I have no idea whether my contribution will be used in the story to appear in the next day’s newspaper, but it doesn’t matter. Miami is still burning.