Interview with Athalie Range

Tell me about the time when you heard about the outcome of the, uh, uh trial of the officers Mr. McDuffie's death and what you did then.


May 17th, 1980 was certainly a dark day in the City of Miami. That was the day that the courts ruled that five officers, who admittedly took a part in the killing of Arthur McDuffie, were set free by the courts. I happened to have been on a funeral service at the time a phone call came to let me know what happened. And I immediately left someone else in charge. Of course came home to be near because I felt that we'd have trouble in the city. It was just, a, maybe an hour or so later, that I received a call from the person who I believe was then the President of the NAACP, his name was William Perry. He called and said that they were having a peaceful march to go to the Dade County jail, or the Justice Building, as we called it, to have a rally there in memory of McArth--of, ah, McDuffie. He insisted that I come. I, I am not a person, I must admit, who am very anxious to get into very large crowds. Nevertheless, I felt that his insistence, it was necessary. And I did go. As I arrived at almost the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital location, a group of, I would consider about three thousand people were coming around the corner of 12th Avenue and 14th Street. And you could hear the shuffling of feet as they were coming. And they were singing, "We Shall Overcome". As they spotted me, Mr. Perry and others who were on the front line, I got out of my car. Parked it in the Cedars' garage. And as they spotted me, some of them came over and got me and I joined them in the front lines. We then had about 150 or 200 feet to walk to the Justice Building. As we got to the Justice Building, everyone holding hands and still singing, without any warning at all, a rock crashed through the large glass doors of the Justice Building. And if anyone has ever said to you that the crashing sound of glass can turn a normal group of people into mad men, that is what happened there. When the glass, glass broke, people immediately stopped singing, changed their tone and we had a full scale riot on our hands in a matter of minutes. I was almost crushed in the crowd because of my size and I'm very mindful of that. That's one of the reasons I don't get into very large crowds. But there were two young men there who saw my plight and I don't believe my feet touched the ground until they got me across the street to the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, and they advised me to go inside. And I did just that. The riot began, rocks began flying, ah, the officers of course were on the scene, almost immediately. And it was very, very difficult for anyone to get out of the area. As the evening drew on with, within moments, I would say, within moments, cars were set on fire, cars were overturned, people were running back and forth screaming. As I stood in the, in the balcony of Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on about the 12th floor, I could look down at the Florida State Health Building, which is just across the street, and there I saw young men drive up in a Black car and just stepped out of the car and began throwing fire bombs. That was the first experience I'd had at seeing fire bombs thrown. They threw them through the window, which had been previously broken by a rock, and that building was set on fire. And the police then were in the distance. You could see them from where I was standing from my vantage point. You could see them with the canine group, the dogs, across the street, just across 12th Avenue and I suppose they were hoping to get in to quiet the people down. But they were not successful. They would come so far and they'd turn back and go. And this went on this terrible rioting and burning of cars went on way late into the evening. It must have been 10 or 11 o'clock, by the time, I'm, I'm speaking of now. I was anxious to get home. I don't believe my children knew where I was. I was anxious to get home and I took a chance to come downstairs to attempt to get out, go in another direction. As I got down to the parking level and started into the parking garage, I heard a voice, I didn't see anyone but I heard a voice coming from a White van that was parked there, which said to me, "Miss Range, get down, get down. They're shooting. The cops are shooting." And of course I was really frightened because I heard them very clearly and I could almost hear footsteps coming behind me. I did not get down because I felt if I crouched, that they, the officers would think that I might have had a weapon in my hand. I stood against the car that I was near and just held my hands up so that they could see that I didn't have anything. As I did that an officer came around with his weapon drawn. He ran around and he knew me. I had not too many years before that been a Commissioner of the City of Miami and I was known to many of the law enforcement officers. And he personally got me back to the building. He said, "Miss Range, get back in the building and don't try to come out." So I went back and I spent the time there until after midnight when I was finally able to get out.


Alright, let's stop down there and see where we are.