Journalist Shares How Encounters with Riots and Racism Led Her to Fight for the Voiceless

Written by on June 9, 2020

By Kathy Y. Times
For Black Women Unmuted 

Finally, America is feeling what I’m feeling — fired up and fed up — over the deadly consequences of racism. Nationwide calls for justice triggered memories of two life-changing experiences for me: witnessing the 1980 Miami riots sparked by the acquittal of white police officers who killed a black man, and an encounter with gun-wielding police in 2006.   

That’s when I was working as an investigative reporter in Alabama, checking out tips of racial profiling in a small city near Birmingham. My videographer and I sat in an unmarked news vehicle shooting video of police making traffic stops when they spotted our SUV. Without provocation, they surrounded our van and aimed their guns within a few feet of my nose. Intuitively, we followed the officers’ orders to show our hands. We were handcuffed and eventually released. I was angry and shaken but determined to report the story, which earned my photographer and me an Emmy Award.

I am certain that decades earlier, childhood memories of witnessing the deadly, devastating Miami riots and news accounts influenced my decision to become a change agent as a journalist and president of the largest organization of journalists of color, the National Association of Black Journalists, in 2009. 

My journey began in May 1980 when I was in middle school. Rioting erupted after a jury acquitted four Miami-Dade police officers of the beating death of Arthur McDuffie, an insurance agent. Police reported he died because of injuries sustained when he crashed his motorcycle after a high-speed chase. 

They lied. 

Kathy Y. Times is a past president of the National Association of Black Journalists and president of Yellow Brick Media Concepts

In truth, McDuffie died after police beat him, using flashlights and nightsticks, cracking his skull. Eighteen people died during the rioting, including a white man and two teenage passengers dragged from their vehicle and beaten to death. During those tense times, while riding to church, my mother instructed me to duck down so no one would see my fair complexion and assume that I was white. 

A tip helped Miami Herald reporter Edna Buchanan uncover the real story of how McDuffie died. Her work helped me realize that journalism was a means for me to be a voice for the voiceless. I worked as an investigative reporter and television news anchor for more than 20 years and developed a rapport with some compassionate police officers during my career. Too often, the bad apples’ barbaric attacks on black people overshadowed the work of good police. Forty years after the Miami riots in Liberty City, what has changed?

News accounts of George Floyd’s death left me feeling sick and helpless. I cried for him and other victims of overzealous police. Still, I remain optimistic that change is coming. It appears many Americans understand the plight of black people. The very nature of racism makes black journalists essential to telling this story and vulnerable to racism’s cruelty in the process. Working together, we are hardly helpless. 

In February, I left a fulfilling job to answer a calling to empower the next generation to realize their purpose and the value of their voices. Ironically, I am working to launch my program near Brunswick, Georgia, where a white father and son are charged with murder for killing unarmed African-American jogger Ahmaud Arbery in February. 

Thank God for peaceful protestors, and for CEOs taking action and providing funds to address racial inequalities. I offer the next generation a few solutions to help them become change agents. 

  • Collaborate with people who don’t look like you to address racial reconciliation.
  • If your campus or school doesn’t have a Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration, start one or support programs already in place. 
  • Stay informed by subscribing to diverse and credible news sources and their mobile alerts. 
  • Vote in every election, and participate in voter registration drives. Hold elected officials accountable for the actions of any public servant who abuses their authority. 
  • Finally, be intentional about spending money with companies that contribute to the well-being of underserved communities.

Use whatever skills you have to stand up for justice and equality. I used a gift of gab and writing to impact the lives of people of all races. I was motivated by harrowing events and an amazing mother. She volunteered in our community and church while rearing and educating five children and her nephew after losing my father, who died when I was five.  Mom did not teach us to hate or discriminate. She equipped us with love to flourish and fight even in the midst of fires.

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Kathy Y. Times is a past president of the National Association of Black Journalists and president of Yellow Brick Media Concepts, a public relations business. Follow her on Twitter @kathytimeswow. 

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