On Native Ground
LET 'EM EAT PEPPER SPRAY: THE 'MIAMI MODEL' FOR PROTESTERS
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Comedian and political activist Barry Crimmins thinks next year will be "the summer of hate" - the moment when the opposition to everything that the Bush administration stands for will reach a boiling point.
But if you think that the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City next September is going to become a festival of protest against President Bush, it's not going to happen.
Why? All you have to do is look back at what happened in Miami last month at the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) summit meeting. What we saw was a prototype for handling protest that should chill the marrow of every American.
About $8.5 million in federal money paid for the more than 40 different local, state and federal law enforcement agencies deployed in Miami. The money came from the $87 billion "War on Terror" funding package passed by Congress in October. That money also financed the purchase of mobile water cannons, armored vehicles, tear gas, rubber bullets, taser guns and body armor for the Miami-Dade police.
Reporters were "embedded" with police and for the most part, they stuck to the script that Miami police chief John Timoney laid out for them. The anti-FTAA protesters were "punks," "troublemakers" and "knuckleheads" that were "coming in to terrorize and vandalize our city" and he would "hunt them like a hawk picking mice off a field," Timoney vowed.
The Miami City Council helped Timoney by passing an ordinance a couple of days before the demonstrations that banned the assembly of groups of eight or more. The ordinance, a blatant violation of the First Amendment right of free assembly, was conveniently timed to expire on Nov. 27, after the protests were over.
Even though Timoney - the architect of the police violence against protests at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia - tried to make distinctions between the "good protesters" who were scheduled to participate in a legally permitted, non-violent trade union march and the "bad protesters" of the various direct action groups, both were brutalized by police.
Anyone who was on the street was considered the enemy by police. Hundreds of unarmed protesters were reportedly clubbed, gassed and shot in the back with rubber bullets. More than 200 people were arrested - some at gunpoint - mostly on trumped up charges. Many were denied food, water and medical treatment. The reports of abuse and mistreatment were enough to have Amnesty International to call for an independent investigation into the actions of the more than 2,500 law enforcement personnel who made up the FTAA security detail.
Even the labor union members and retirees who made up the "good" protesters were immune from the strong arm tactics. Busloads of people trying to get to the site of the police approved union march were turned away by police. Others who were noticeably missing the tattoos and piercings of the "bad" protesters were harassed, shot at and gassed as they tried to leave the city after the march.
Afterwards, Timoney told The Miami Herald that he thought the police "showed remarkable restraint."
Restraint? Maybe what he really was saying was that we should be happy that his guys didn't kill anyone. If they really showed restraint, the city of Miami wouldn't be the target of multiple federal law suits filed by groups such as the AFL-CIO, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild.
Combine militarized policing with a total disregard for civil liberties, and what was seen in Miami will almost certainly be repeated in New York next September. I fear that we may see violence on an unprecedented scale, something that would make the police riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago look tame by comparison.
The sort of heavy-handed police state tactics we saw in Miami has become the norm since the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle and has become even more so since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. If you intend to protest against the established order, you have to be prepared to get a face full of pepper spray for your troubles.
Those in power don't particularly care how many heads have to be cracked to maintain order. The Miami mayor, Manny Diaz, called the FTAA summit "a model for homeland defense."
Apparently, the FBI thinks so too.
According to an FBI memo that was leaked to The New York Times, the bureau is asking local law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence on the anti-war movement. The FBI supposedly is concerned that "terrorists" might use protests to distract law enforcement agencies to launch an attack somewhere else. Investigating, infiltrating and harassing anti-war groups - something that the FBI routinely did from the 1960s through the 1980s - apparently now is part of President Bush's "war on terror."
So, apparently, is the criminalization of non-violent dissent. Miami's civic leaders felt it was perfectly OK to violate the U.S. Constitution in the name of security and that what happened at the FTAA summit was a model for others to follow.
That model, paid for with our tax dollars, is a system of repression and intimidation that has absolutely no place in a free society.
Randolph T. Holhut was a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.