The Police vs. The Rebels of Miami

Revolutionary Worker #1222, December 14, 2003, posted at

In preparation for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meeting that began on November 17, the Miami City Council passed a special ordinance (law) targeting protesters. The ordinance outlawed the carrying of many ordinary objects because they supposedly could be used in protests. Among the items banned were sticks, anything pointed, balloons (not filled with air), supersoakers, scissors, glass containers, etc. The city council basically banned "anything hard that may be thrown and is carried with the intent to use unlawfully."

The special ordinance also outlawed any "coordinated movement" of seven or more people in the street with the intent to gain attention or stop traffic. Boca Raton, a city just north of Miami, passed a similar ordinance that made dancing in the streets illegal.

The Miami ordinance did not outright give the police the power to simply search backpacks, cars, containers, or individuals--but it did provide the police more pretext to carry out such searches. In one instance actually shown on TV, Miami Police Chief John Timoney himself stopped a youth and gruffly grabbed his bag because it "looked like" there were rocks in it. As the TV camera showed, the youth wasn't carrying anything "illegal." But he could've been hauled off to jail if he'd had a pair of scissors or any other item declared "unlawful" by the Miami City Council.

This fascistic ordinance was part of the new levels of government and police repression that were deployed against the anti-FTAA protests in Miami during the week of November 17. (For a first-hand report on the protests, See "Resistance in Occupied Miami," RW #1221, available online at

The "Miami Model"

The police measures carried out in Miami are now being termed the "Miami Model." The Miami mayor and others are promoting these measures as a blueprint for "homeland security" throughout the U.S. This "model" uses some previous precedents that have been set for repressing dissent, bringing them together to create an atmosphere where protest and dissent themselves are considered "suspect" and "criminal."

According to a statement by the Miami Legal Defense Team, "Prior to the mass action there was a calculated campaign on the part of the police to intimidate and harass protesters." This campaign included illegal stops and seizures, random questioning, unlawful arrests, and the enormous and widespread police presence in downtown Miami.

Downtown Miami was turned into a deserted militarized zone through a campaign of fear, intimidation, and violence. As a part of this, the police--with the help of the mainstream media--frightened local businesses and residents with images of the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Many businesses closed for the week. The police harassed businesses that remained open and showed any interest or solidarity with the protesters by putting up flyers about the anti-FTAA activities.

"Hunting" Protesters

"One thing is clear: He doesn't like radical protesters, whom he dismisses as `punks' and `knuckleheads.' He personally hunts them like a hawk picking mice off a field."

A Miami Herald reporter who was "embedded" with the police, describing Police Chief Timoney

Miami Police Chief John Timoney has personally overseen some of the previous escalations in police measures against protesters. He was the police commissioner in Philadelphia when the police carried out pre-emptive arrests and other outrageous attacks against people protesting the 2000 Republican National Convention. Last year Timoney was an advisor to the New York City police during the protests against the World Economic Forum (WEF). Timoney has a reputation as a "tough cop" with a "hands-on" approach, employing paramilitary-type tactics to maintain a firm grip over a city. In both Philly and Miami, he could be seen riding his bike in the streets, getting in his own licks against protesters alongside his officers.

One of Timoney's first acts in preparation for the FTAA protests was to "embed" the bourgeois media in the police operations--similar to the way reporters from major networks and newspapers were "embedded" in U.S military units. The embedded reporters in Miami received special flack jackets and riot helmets, adding to the "war zone" atmosphere. And "embedding" was a way for the police to ensure that the media was more strictly under control and telling the "right" side of the story.

The "Miami model" also includes escalation of police violence. The police used a wide array of weapons against the protesters, including military-style tanks, mobile water cannons, tear gas, pepperspray, concussion grenades, tasers and electrified shields. Over 100 protesters were treated for injuries; 12 had to be hospitalized. Eight of 60 legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild were arrested on Nov. 20. The legal observers wore distinctive green hats, and they say they were specifically targeted by the cops.

Police went after independent (non-embedded) journalists in new ways. According to the St. Petersburg Times,"Celeste Fraser Delgado, a 36-year-old reporter for the Miami New Times , was interviewing protesters when she was arrested. According to an Associated Press report of her ordeal, she overheard police arguing about what to charge her with. The two misdemeanors -- failure to obey a legal command and resisting arrest without violence -- were dropped the next day." Some videographers with the Independent Media Center reported that they were victims of armed robberies in which their cameras and footage were taken--sometimes by men brandishing the same tasers the cops were using.

Police dispersed large groups of protesters with tear gas and pepper spray and opened fire with rubber bullets and other projectiles. Small groups leaving the protests were harassed, arrested, and beaten. The St. Petersburg Times reported on one example of the police use of rubber bullets. A cop kicked a banana toward a woman. When she bent down to pick it up, the cop shot her in the back with a rubber bullet. She was shot twice more in the back while running away. Her friend was shot seven times while trying to help her.

The bourgeois media put a lot of effort into pitting the "good" protesters--those who obey the laws and rules of the system--against "bad" protesters. But on the streets, the police often went after older retired workers attending the labor union march with the same brutality and callousness as they treated the rebellious youth. Bentley Killmon, a 71-year-old retiree, told the Miami Herald that he was forced onto his knees on railroad tracks by police who had surrounded his group as they headed back to their bus. They were arrested and left in handcuffs for over 11 hours without food or a phone call.

Just days after these protests, the New York Times broke a story about a FBI memo calling on local police to spy on the antiwar and global justice movements and report any "potentially illegal" activities. In Miami, the police went beyond spying to actively infiltrating the protests and provoking confrontations. Jeremy Scahill, a producer and correspondent for the radio/TV program Democracy Now!, reported: "At one point during a standoff with police, it appeared as though a group of protesters had gotten into a brawl among themselves. But as others moved in to break up the melee, two of the guys pulled out electric tazers and shocked protesters, before being liberated back behind police lines. These guys, clearly undercover agents, were dressed like any other protester. One had a sticker on his backpack that read: `FTAA No Way.' The IMC has since published pictures of people dressed like Black Bloc kids--ski masks and all--walking with uniformed police behind police lines."

In the face of this extreme police brutality and repression, thousands of people courageously marched and protested in the streets of Miami against capitalist globalization. The contrast between the system's ugly police and the beautiful resistance of the people was sharp and clear on November 20. As riot police advanced from all sides against the protest and threatened mass arrests, fearless youth--many already injured from police assaults--put their bodies on the line by linking arms to keep the cops away from other protesters. The system had failed to crush the spirit of the youth, who fought like hell to get their message across that another world is possible.