Sunday, November 30, 2003


Dreadful memories of public strife in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War , are the closest parallel to what happened in Miami, during the FTAA demonstration in late November, 2003. There was a police riot and somewhere near 200 were arrested and many others were brutalized during the days of protest.

The programed aspect of the melee and its paramilitary organization is the most disturbing part of the story. As authorized by Mayor Diaz and carried out by Police Chief John Timony, this violent interdiction has the fingerprints of Homeland Security all over it. It's bad enough when an offense against public order is committed by the police themselves; but worst of all, is the implication that this is sanctioned by higher authority and constitutes a schematic for repression, now dubbed the Miami Model.

The US Constitution may guarantee the right to assembly and protest; but the ominous threat to citizens who disagree with policy is being framed in such a way, as to confuse the boundary between acts of terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience. The ground rules are being altered to allow the use of paramilitary violence to crush dissent in the streets.

In an open letter to Miami's Mayor Diaz, dated November 20th, Michael Avery, President of The National Lawyers Guild writes:

"The actions of the Miami Police Department this week have violated the fundamental due process and First Amendment rights of thousands of peaceful protesters gathering to voice their opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit."

"The National Lawyers Guild is on site observing numerous illegal practices that Miami City leadership has referred to as a "blueprint for Homeland Security," including:

indiscriminate, excessive force against hundreds of nonviolent protesters with weapons including pepper spray, tear gas and concussion grenades, and rubber bullets;

Singling out of [National Lawyers Guild] Legal Observers wearing highly visible neon green caps. We have confirmed reports that five Legal Observers were arrested, and four of those assaulted by police officers;

Police stopping and snatching protesters, seemingly at random, into unmarked vehicles;

Police shooting protesters with rubber bullets and trapping them by police lines, resulting in major injuries. Police repeatedly refused to allow Medics into these areas to treat the injured."

"Such paramilitary tactics are ill-conceived and self-defeating and have no place in a democratic society. Such tactics are not only in direct violation of the constitutional rights of protesters, but also make young and inexperienced police officers more nervous, increasing the likelihood of serious bodily injury to many."

Writing for the Guardian, Naomi Klein observes that this working Miami Model is setting a new standard: ..."Police violence outside trade summits is not new; what is striking about Miami was how divorced the security response was from anything resembling an actual threat. From an activist perspective, the protests were small and obedient, an understandable response to weeks of police intimidation" Klein goes on to say that in order for this kind of model to work, "the police had to establish a connection between legitimate activists and dangerous terrorists"..."and Police Chief, John Timony, an avowed enemy of activist "punks",..."classified FTAA opponents as "outsiders coming in to terrorize and vandalize our city....Miami [thereby] became eligible for the open tap of public money irrigating the "war on terror". In fact, $8.5 [million] spent on security during the FTAA meeting came out of the $87 [billion] Bush extracted from Congress for Iraq last month."

Klein focuses her criticism on local media:

"Miami police...invited reporters to "embed" with them in armoured vehicles and helicopters. As in Iraq, most reporters embraced their role as pseudo soldiers with zeal, suiting up in combat helmets and flak jackets."

"The resulting media coverage was the familiar wartime combination of dramatic images and non-information"..."Local TV stations didn't cover the protests so much as hover over them. Their helicopters showed images of confrontations, but instead of hearing voices in the street--voices pleading with police to stop shooting and clearly following orders to disperse--we heard only from police officials and perky news anchors commiserating with the boys on the front line."

Democracy Now! reports other significant developments: "The United Steel Workers of America is calling for the firing of John Timony following last week's protest against [FTAA] and the dropping of all charges against peaceful protesters."...And the president of the steelworkers union [Leo Gerard] called for a congressional investigation into why $8.5 million from the Iraq reconstruction bill was used to pay for security at the protests. He said the money went towards "homeland repression"...

"The Alliance for Retired Americans also held a rally Tuesday in Miami to protest how the police handled senior citizens who attended the FTAA demonstrations. One 71-year-old man, Bentley Killmon, told the Associated Press he was arrested while he was looking for his organization's bus. But then he encountered police dressed in riot gear. They pushed him to the ground, arrested him, handcuffed him for 12 hours and denied him water or a chance to make a phone call. Killmon said, "The way I was treated, you would expect in a third world country, not in this country."

Global Exchange's Medea Benjamin offers this testimony: "I was on my way home one evening"..."in a van and got stopped by 12 police with guns put to our heads, forced out of the car, frisked, held, every piece of paper in the van gone through, and no markings on the police. They wouldn't tell us their names. They wouldn't tell us who they were with. They wouldn't tell us who was in charge. As we kept complaining, and yelling, and they kept threatening us. Finally one of them took me over to show me the booty they had collected from other cars. And they said, "Look, the reason we have to search everybody is because we came up with this"--and this was two hockey sticks and a baseball bat and one slingshot."

The largest contingent of protesters came from the ranks of the unions, and although the police actually prevented the timely arrival of a number of buses carrying union members, these marches went peacefully since they had permits. But as Jeremy Scahill reports:

..."as soon as the unions and their permits began to disperse, the police seized the moment to escalate the violence"...Fresh from their break during the union rally, Timony's forces ordered the protesters to clear the area in front of the Inter-Continental. Some of the demonstrators shouted back that they had the right to peacefully protest the FTAA.

Boom. The concussion grenades started flying.

Hiss. The tear gas was sprayed.

Rat-a-tat-tat. The rubber bullets were fired.

Bam, bam. The batons were swinging."


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