[saymaListserv] Miami truth

Kit Potter listener at bellsouth.net
Sat Nov 22 15:04:35 JEST 2003

Arresting The Future  http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=17246

By Tom Hayden, AlterNet
November 21, 2003

Editor's Note: Tom Hayden is reporting for AlterNet from the Free Trade Area
of the Americas conference in Miami.

MIAMI, Friday 8:21pm EST  The police force continued operating with the
brains and appetite of a carnivorous shark today as city officials kept
demonstrating "the Miami model" of suppression even as protestors and trade
ministers were leaving the city in droves.

At a Friday afternoon press conference, Thea Lee, the chief international
economist of the AFL-CIO, spoke of feeling terrified Thursday as police
fired pepper gas and plastic bullets at peaceful marchers. Other labor
leaders, including AFL-CIO president John Sweeney expressed "outrage" over
the police blocking of a permitted gathering, and cited specific abuses such
as a union retiree being denied necessary medication after an arbitrary

Global Exchange co-founder Medea Benjamin and others were pulled over
Thursday night by a dozen officers who pointed guns at them. The Sierra
Club's Washington D.C. advocate, Dan Seligman, also described officers
holding a weapon to his head and that of another colleague. Mark Rand,
coordinator of a group of foundation funders, displayed a large bluish
bruise on his back leg from a rubber bullet.

When 100 protestors ventured to the Dade County jail today to speak out
against yesterday's arrests and detentions of some 145 people, a third on
felonies, the same cycle of avoidable suppression they were describing
unfolded yet again.

David Solnit, one of the founders of the Seattle movement, attributed the
harsh police measures to Miami's character as a center of "vulgar
capitalism." Unlike other cities, where authorities may appear to assimilate
dissent for political reasons, he said, Miami has attempted to sweep it away
as a foreign curse. AFL-CIO leader Ron Judd speculated that the police
suppression deflected public attention from working-class trade issues,
while Medea Benjamin accused authorities of "trying to get the people of
this city and county used to this militaristic model" instead of the
relatively benign model of policing used at Cancun only two months ago.

I came to Miami with eight students from Harvard University, where I have
been teaching a study group on social movements this semester. They carried
with them questionnaires to sample the opinions of this new generation of
protestors, and received a first-hand education in police suppression today.
After the press conference outside the county jail, about 200 young people
marched 100 yards, stopping in a parking lot across a street from several
hundred heavily equipped police officers.

Negotiations between a police commander and activist lawyers produced
peaceful coexistence for an hour late in the afternoon. There were high
spirits, even humor, among the protestors who invented chants like "There
ain't no riot here, take off that stupid gear" and songs like "We all live
in a failed democracy."

The protest could easily have been contained by a handful of officers, or
might have simply faded as the day ended. Instead, at approximately 5pm, the
commanding officer summoned the activist lawyers to announce that those
milling, waiting or sitting in the parking lot had become an "unlawful
assembly" with three minutes to disperse. In addition, he said with a
straight face, there was "intelligence" that some in the crowd had rocks.
There was no evidence shared with regard to this secret intelligence and no
rocks were seen in the events that followed.

Instead of resisting, the crowd began dispersing along 14th Street, the only
egress route available. With the Harvard students, I was among the last to
leave, along with camerawoman Ana Nogueria and reporter Jeremy Scahill from
Democracy Now! Crossing a driveway I met David Solnit again, who had decided
not to take it any more.

"Come on, Tom, here's your historical moment," he said. "We need civil
disobedience to say no to all this."

I replied with words to the effect that I was writing about this, not
leading it, feeling slight pangs of nostalgia and guilt. But there was no
more time for talk. The police were advancing only a few feet behind us. I
stayed with my Harvard students, having warned them earlier that they might
be caught up or hurt in the unpredictable police sweep.

Solnit and six others sat down suddenly on the sidewalk, holding their hands
up in V-signs. A phalanx of 25 police closed in on them as we took
photographs and notes from a few feet away. In moments the seven on the
sidewalk were handcuffed and led away. More police were swarming everywhere
now, overwhelming the remaining protestors by 10-to-one.

One block away, the dispersing crowd was walking backwards as more police
marched on them with helmet visors down and guns and clubs drawn. By now
five of my students had joined this retreating witness, all holding their
hands over their heads and chanting "We are dispersing" again and again.

How could the police not notice how young they were, how utterly
unthreatening, how innocent?

I moved alongside the advancing and retreating lines to take a photograph
when I noticed that a policeman was aiming a shotgun straight at my chest.
Fear leaped in me, then he pointed the weapon down. But a moment later he
was looking down the barrel at me again. I was holding a camera, notebook
and pen. Suddenly I found myself asking him, "Are you really pointing that
fucking gun at me?"

Nothing happened, and I turned back to look for the students. They were on
the public sidewalk, but by now more police had arrived to prevent them from
walking any further.

The last I saw of them  Anne Beckett, Maddy Elfenbein, Jordan Bar Am,
Rachel Bloomekatz and Toussaint Losier, all undergraduates  their hands
were still up as they were swallowed up by the black-and-brown uniformed
horde. When they were on the ground, one officer added a final squirt of
pepper spray. How brave they look, I added to myself.

Two of my other students avoided arrest by happening to turn in another
direction and, minutes later, Touissant, a tall African American with dreds
and a video camera, magically walked free because the police were too busy
with their already downed dissidents. A minute later, I learned that
Democracy Now's Ana Nogueira  and her camera  had been enveloped and
arrested too. It was another experiment in the "Miami model." What I
remembered of this imperial aggressiveness at the ballot box from November
2000 now seemed to be repeating itself on the streets.

Police subsequently informed the larger world that a mob of menacing
protestors had disobeyed orders to dissolve an unlawful assembly and were
treated accordingly.

In truth they may have radicalized the next generation of America's future

NEXT: What's in the new trade agreement? Has the train left the station with
the boxcars empty?
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