Five years ago this November, the Miami police department, with the assistance of Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal government agencies, unleashed a violent paramilitary occupation of Miami in order to curtail protests against the now defunct proposal to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Police officers, some of whom had no visible identification, fired rubber bullets, tear gas, concussion grenades, and stun guns indiscriminately at the estimated 25,000 protesters, which included 20 busloads of senior citizens retired from the AFL-CIO. This same violent anti-protest strategy will be applied at the September 1-4 Republication National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.
One of the many low points in Miami occurred when Elizabeth Ritter, a local lawyer wielding a sign that read ‘Fear Totalitarianism’, was shot repeatedly by police aiming for her head.
A local videographer captured Broward Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Michael Kallman addressing a group of officers afterwards congratulating them for their sharp-shooting. "The good news about watching you guys live on TV was the lady in the red dress. I don’t know who got her, but it went through the sign and hit her smack dab in the head," said a "pumped up" Kallman, to applause and cheers.
Later, another unidentified officer referred to protesters as "scurrying cockroaches," further revealing a culture of violence and contempt towards not only the citizens the police are responsible to protect, but to the U.S. constitution.
A month later, State Circuit Court Judge Richard Margolius, while presiding over the cases of free trade protesters, said in court that he saw "no less than 20 felonies committed by police officers." Margolis went to the protests and commented that it was "pretty disgraceful what I saw with my own eyes."
But Miami Mayor Manny Diaz saw it differently. Diaz, echoing a sentiment surely shared by many in the Bush administration, declared the security operation "a model for homeland defense." What has now become infamously known as the "Miami Model" offers a preview of what protesters can expect at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul this September.
As St. Paul prepares for the upcoming RNC and the 100,000 citizens expected to protest, the hysteria and calls for militarization of security operations are surpassing what occurred in Miami.
The city is in a legal battle with protest organizers seeking to change the time and route of an anti-war march scheduled for Sept. 1, the opening day of the Convention. The city filed a legal brief in June to support its decision to limit the route and time of the march. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported that included in the brief was a memorandum from John A. Kolerno, the Secret Service coordinator for the convention.
"In planning security measures for the RNC," Kolerno wrote, "the Secret Service is considering a wide array of potential security threats, including terrorist attacks, lone gunmen, fire, environmental hazards, chemical or biological attacks, structural safety concerns, and suicide bombers."
While the Bush Administration used the "war on terrorism" as a pretext for a war in Iraq, it is now being used to justify a "war on dissent" within our own borders. Kolerno’s dangerous, if not ridiculous claims far exceed the usual cries of apocalyptic anarchist scenarios or WTO-Seattle type "riots". And with a $50 million federal grant to pay for officers and "supplies", "the most liveable city in America" could be turned into a war zone.
What’s next? Calls for the use of extraordinary rendition to prevent this ticking time bomb scenario we find ourselves in these last few weeks before the convention. Given that two former top advisers to Republican nominee John McCain have ties to the military junta in Burma, we’ll know where to look first. That may not be far off.
Back in April, the Minneapolis Police Federation was up in arms over plans to limit the use of "security tools," such as tasers and pepper spray, in an effort to lessen the potential for abuse. Federation President John Delmonico suggested that inhibiting the use of weapons such as tasers could force officers to use deadly force if deemed necessary. Never mind that tasers have killed people in the past, or that the UN declared that the use of tasers is "a form of torture." So according to Delmonico, if police can’t use weapons that can potentially kill people, they’ll be forced to use weapons that could potentially kill people.
Well, St. Paul’s police department recently purchased 230 additional tasers so that none of its officers will be without one. It’s uncertain whether each of the estimated 3,500 additional officers and secret service agents expected to "protect and serve" will have these weapons as well, to complement their guns loaded with rubber bullets and pepper spray.
Which brings us back to Miami. After all the injuries, filed complaints of police brutality, hundreds of hours of video footage, baseless arrests, and sheer terror unleashed on the protesters advocating, of all things, fair trade, the city of Miami was forced to carry out a formal investigation of the security debacle. Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel, charged with providing independent oversight of the Miami Police Department, issued a report that stated distorted and sensationalist media coverage helped foster an environment that allowed police to use indiscriminate force, that "more time and attention was devoted to training personnel to protect property rather than persons and even less time was spent addressing the constitutional protections guaranteed to all," and there was and continued to be no accountability for police abuses.
But what inhibited the investigative panel from actually conducting a more thorough review was that legal attempts to acquire the Miami Police Department’s Operational Plan for the FTAA protests were shot down in court. According to police officials, information in the Plan could jeopardize future security operations, not only in Miami, but nationally. Which brings us back to the RNC: ironically, an original printing of the Declaration of Independence will be in St. Paul for public viewing just in time for the convention. The Declaration states:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
The police in St. Paul should think about these words.
Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org, a website covering activism and politics in Latin America.
Photo from Portland.Indymedia.org