This past Sunday, Miami residents gathered for one last rally in support of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ahead of early voting, which commenced on Monday.
Dozens of people with the Cubans for Biden and Haitians for Biden groups began the day with a show of unity in Little Haiti. Supporters filed to their cars for a caravan through the streets of Little Haiti and Allapattah. Residents spilled out of their homes to cheer them on.
“It was a celebration of culture, democracy, and choice,” says Jenelle Penha, a progressive activist who attended the events. “It was a beautiful thing to experience.”
The groups made their way to Doral Central Park, where hundreds more gathered in support of the Democratic presidential nominee and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California. The plan was to drive toward downtown Miami and stop at the Freedom Tower.
The vibe began to shift when the Biden camp inadvertently merged with a traffic-clogging caravan supporting President Donald Trump.
Several Biden caravan participants say the event went from harmonious to hostile as they turned onto Southwest Eighth Street. They described to New Times an atmosphere of harassment, intimidation, and violence instigated by the Trump supporters.
The Haitians for Biden group, Ayisyen pou Biden, had rented a mobile billboard truck to display messages supporting their candidate and encouraging people to vote.
The truck’s driver, who asked that he not be named because of safety concerns, tells New Times that a man driving an SUV with Trump flags pulled up next to him, rolled down his window, and told him to get off the road “with this bullshit on the truck.” When traffic started moving, the SUV driver cut off the truck driver, “brake-checked” him, and blocked him from moving. The truck driver says that when he honked his horn, the man in the SUV got out of the car and threatened him with a gun.
“He pulled his firearm out of the holster,” the driver says. “I threw my hands up like I’m surrendering. He turns around and walks back to get in the [SUV]. I start to try to take a picture of the tag, he sees me and jumps back out. I locked the door real fast.”
The driver says the man tried to force open the door of the billboard truck which enough force that he broke the handle. The man also punched or threw something at the windshield, cracking it, the driver says. The driver reported the incident to the Miami-Dade Police Department. (New Times has requested the incident report from MDPD.)
Lex Pierre-Louis, owner of the marketing company Lex Promotions, says his mobile advertising trucks display whatever message a client requests. He says he’s now worried about the safety of his drivers.
“We’re a non-biased company,” Pierre-Louis says. “Whoever hires us, whatever the message is, that’s what we put on the trucks. We don’t want to be intimidated. In all our years of business, none of this has ever happened.”
The driver took a couple of days off from work, and Pierre-Louis assigned him to trucks that don’t display political messages.
“It’s crazy because I’m trying to do a job and earn an honest living,” the driver tells New Times. “It’s scary to know that you’re just doing your job and this could happen.”
The driver shared photos of the damage with New Times. The images show the driver’s-side door handle dangling off the truck and the windshield shattered. Police are pictured investigating at the scene.
A mobile billboard truck with Biden messages was damaged on Sunday.
Elsewhere in the Biden caravan, Sofia Hidalgo and her passenger were following the route in the area of Little Havana. Hidalgo, an 18-year-old first-time voter, started volunteering with the Cubanos con Biden group when she moved to Miami from Maryland about three months ago.
Because Hidalgo’s car and a few others were at the tail end of the Biden group, she says they got stuck in the Trump caravan.
“We were outnumbered because we were at the end,” Hidalgo recounts to New Times. “We were stuck between Trump cars. When you’re outnumbered in that way, things go south because they feel emboldened by their numbers.”
Hidalgo describes large trucks with Trump flags cutting off her tiny Honda Fit and brake-checking her. She says a motorcycle, a Jeep, and other, larger cars boxed her car in on Calle Ocho, blocking her from moving.
“I couldn’t move at all — they had me blocked in,” Hidalgo says. “They completely encircled my car. The tires were huge. I couldn’t see outside or around me. They kept getting closer and closer and closer to my vehicle. As close as they could, barely [missing] hitting me.”
She says someone approached her window and told her to get off the road.
“I thought we were going to get physically harmed,” Hidalgo says. “I was trying to get out of there safely with my passenger.”
Adding to the day’s tension, some members of the Biden caravan spotted Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the far-right Proud Boys group, walking among cars stopped in traffic on Biscayne Boulevard near the Freedom Tower. Tarrio was wearing a black tee with the words “Stand back, stand by,” a reference to Trump’s remarks on militia and white supremacist groups during the first presidential debate last month.
Enrique Tarrio, chairman of Proud Boys and head of Latinos for Trump walking in Miami with “Stand Back, Stand By” on his Proud Boys shirt. They intercepted a Biden caravan, threatened us, circled our cars and ran supporters off the road. pic.twitter.com/0Qz9SjZyPa
— Sofia Hidalgo (@sofiamhidalgo) October 18, 2020
A woman in the Biden caravan, who asked New Times not to publish her name, says that from her vantage point, it looked like Tarrio was circling the cars bearing Biden flags and pointing at the drivers.
“He is the Proud Boy. He’s the leader of the Proud Boys,” the woman says. “We didn’t know what was going on. It looked like an intimidation tactic, like he was singling out Biden cars.”
Latinos for Trump organized Sunday’s pro-Trump caravan, and Tarrio is the group’s Florida director. Reached by New Times, Tarrio says he didn’t point at or otherwise try to intimidate drivers with Biden/Harris signs on their cars. Tarrio, who was leading the caravan in a truck hauling a Trump unity bridge, says he got down from the truck to check on traffic and tell members of his caravan to turn left at an upcoming intersection.
He says claims that he was threatening people as they sat in their cars are ridiculous.
“I wish I were half as cool as these people make me out to be,” he says. “I wish I were half as villain-y.”
Tarrio says he doesn’t believe anyone in the Trump caravan would do something like what Hidalgo described, with drivers trapping her and ordering her off the road. Still, he says, no one should intimidate anyone for supporting one candidate or another in the election.
“Whether Biden-supporting or Trump-supporting voters, no one should be intimidated,” Tarrio says. “That some lady was told to get off the road, is there any proof of this happening? I didn’t see it. I condemn it in the strongest way possible, but I just don’t see it happening.”
A Florida International University poll of Cuban immigrants found that 59 percent of those surveyed said they would vote to elect Trump for a second term; 25 percent said they’d vote for Biden. Biden might not have strong support among Miami’s conservative Cuban exile and other Latino communities, but a Pew Research Center study shows that about two-thirds of registered Latino voters in the U.S. are confident Biden can tackle key issues like handling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, uniting the country, and making sound foreign-policy decisions.
Amore Rodriguez, an organizer with Cubanos con Biden, says the group was created to give a voice to Cuban Democrats and bring together other diaspora groups in Miami for events in support of Biden.
“Our goal has been to change the narrative of Cuban voters,” Rodriguez says. “We wanted to create a space for other people to find connections in Cuban heritage and progressive views. That, and obviously, tell people we’re not communists, which has been the hardest thing.”
Tamara B. Rodriguez, a Broward resident and volunteer for Ayisyen pou Biden, says the caravan with Cubanos con Biden was meant to bring together Caribbean neighbors who might not normally interact in a divided city like Miami.
“We’re two of the largest [immigrant] groups in Miami-Dade,” Tamara Rodriguez says. “For some reason, we’re so segregated. We don’t really work together. It was amazing to become a joint force and mobilize together. If you mess with one, you mess with both.”
Amore Rodriguez says it was disappointing and embarrassing to see some of the qualities she dislikes about Trump revealed in her own community.
“But it’s lit a fire in me to push forward,” she says. “It made me realize our country is at stake by being overcome by people who believe it is OK to treat people from your community in such a disgusting way.”
Jenelle Penha, the progressive activist, says she believes there is power in “gathering your own people” to bring progressive changes.
“I hope that people are aware that change needs to be made within our own communities,” says Penha, a Broward resident from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “I know sometimes it seems insurmountable, but if we start in our own cities, we can see larger change.”