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Trade Offs

Boxed-in protesters fault police in "free trade" protest



Two days after demonstrations against the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) summit in Miami that ended on Nov. 21, the Miami Herald quoted police chief John Timoney's words to a protester pinned against a car by undercover officers: "You're bad.  F--- you!"


Girl with protest sign


(Above) Jennifer Wood


That summed up the attitude of law enforcement toward the thousands of people who had traveled to Florida to protest the decisions being made by the 34-country FTAA group which claims to be "unit[ing] the economies of the Americas into a single free trade area [by 2005] ... in which barriers to trade and investment will be progressively eliminated." We and the many groups hoping to prevent the FTAA, such as, believe the agreement "aims to extend corporate control throughout the Western Hemisphere." The decisions members of the FTAA make will affect the lives of millions of people throughout the Americas who had no representation at this summit.


Miami's downtown, where the protests were being held, had been effectively shut down for "security" reasons. We tried to take a taxi in and were blocked at every turn, told by police to take one alternate route and then the next -- each of which was also blocked. Hundreds of police officers in riot gear, two tanks and at least seven helicopters had been brought in to greet those protesters intrepid enough to find their way behind the police lines blocking almost every entrance to Bayfront Park, where the anti-FTAA demonstrations were being held. Estimates of the crowd ranged to 10,000 people. There were certainly more than the 5,000 the Herald later reported. The Pittsburgh contingent included the ubiquitous Tim Vining, head of the Garfield-based Thomas Merton Center.


The militarization of downtown Miami and the arbitrary violence of the police force guaranteed that the protests could not end peacefully. Police refused to let some demonstrators march into the park area to join the assembly (despite the fact that the park was at least half empty) and instead kept thousands waiting in the streets under the hot sun. By the time that we arrived at noon, police had already attacked protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray. One speaker claimed that a retired union Steelworker's wife had been thrown to the pavement and searched at gunpoint. In one inexplicable moment, AFL-CIO members took over police lines when police wanted a rest.


Our experience merely demonstrated further how anti-democratic these proceedings were.


Amnesty International is calling for a full and independent investigation of police violence in Miami. Reports suggest that detainees were beaten and sprayed with pepper gas and high-powered water hoses inside Dade County Jail. Amnesty also wants to extend the United Nation's "Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers" to rubber bullets. Until the global Day of Action Against War and Occupation set for March 20, 2004 in Washington, D.C., sponsored by United For Peace, march organizers will be busy assisting with the legal defenses of those arrested in Miami.


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