[mgj-discuss] Al Crespo's account of Miami protests
danbeeton at citizenstrade.org
Sun Nov 23 18:51:53 EST 2003
>From al crespo <alcrespo at mindspring.com>:
PLEASE PASS ON AND POST ON OTHER WEBSITES
GOOD MORNING MIAMI - LOOK WHOSE ON OUR STREETS
So many thoughts, so many photographs, so many contradictions, and at the end some disquieting questions and observations.
As protests go, and I've been to over 100 of them, what happened in Miami was a very nasty piece of business.
Because this is a summary of the last couple days, and because different portions of it are primarily directed at different audiences, it is going to be long. I will spare you the agony and/or frustration of sending it all to you in one piece. I plan to divide this into possibly 3-4 sections and get them out as fast as I can.
I hope you get something out of this.
THURSDAY MORNING - THE MARCH
It was a far smaller crowd than I think anyone expected - including me who has been saying for weeks that there was not going to be anywhere near the numbers that the police and others had been claiming would be taking part in these protests - that gathered in the plaza of the County Commission chambers on Thursday morning.
The crowd was somewhere in the 400 range, largely young people, some with signs, a couple with banners. Since this was going to be a parade of sorts, everyone was waiting for the puppets to arrive, and for whatever reasons - police harassment tactics being the reason widely circulated - it took a while for them to arrive and everyone to form up for the march to the fences on the boulevard and Flagler Street.
The signs that this was going to be a difficult, and possibly dangerous day had already become evident on Tuesday afternoon when well over 500 heavily armored and armed Metro-Dade police had come out into the streets supposedly, as I was told on Wednesday, as a result of a threat or rumor that the Black Bloc was going to join up with the Root Cause and the Immokalee Farm Workers as they came into the city at the conclusion of their 3 day march. They didn't, but I suspect that like many other things that occurred this week, the threat of anarchists showing up was merely a pretext in order to provide an excuse to set a tone for the upcoming events.
The march started sometime close to 8 AM, and had only gone about 3 blocks when I realized that the Miami Police Department and Chief Timoney, had decided to use a version of the Los Angeles model, rather than a modified version of the tactics that he had used in Philadelphia during the 2000 Republican National Convention.
The Los Angeles model (and this is my own identifying title, although I would believe that all of the strategies and tactics are exhaustively detailed in police manuals, and probably identified in much the same way), used by the LA police during the 2000 Democratic Convention is to convert your police force into a heavily armored and armed, military-style force that moves around in squad formations of 50-100 man units, constantly flanking and encircling the protesters, and as a consequence of this military preparation and mindset, far more ready to use force, and possibly excessive force including shooting and physically attacking protesters and bystanders at the first provocation.. The LA model turns the police into soldiers, and their primary goal is not so much crowd control, as it is to dominate and pacify the streets and everyone on them.
In Philadelphia, Chief Timoney had had some heavily armored and armed squads, but he had relied far more on having a large part of his force - in 50-100 man units - being dressed in light blue shirts, and blue shorts, and on them being on bicycles. The bicycles were used as barricades to block off and control protesters. He also used horses and motorcycle police - not on big Harley's, but on smaller motorcycles - to charge into a crowd to break things up.
The difference between these two models is evident. And the outcomes, are also evident. The LA model is far more intimidating. You've all seen the photographs or video on TV of what happened this week. This wasn't a police force on Miami's streets, it was a modified army.
The mindset of an army is to engage the "enemy." There has now been ample evidence in the Miami Herald, the Sun Sentinel, the indymedia website, and all of the local TV stations that in instance after instance the police treated normal citizens and law abiding protesters in this city like the US Army has been treating people in Afganistan and Iraq. Later on I will write about a family forced to the ground outside the Sylvester Cancer Center on Friday, and will probably post the photographs as well so that you can see what happens to people when police consider everyone a possible enemy.
This kind of behavior almost guarantees that by the end of the day -if you have confrontations, and that's almost a given, especially if, like Chief Timoney, who was characterized in Sunday's Miami Herald as being like"a war general" has openly taunted and egged on protesters for weeks.
But I digress, let us get back to the march.
The marchers set off east on NE 1st Street. At NE 2nd Avenue, they took a right. On Flagler Street, they took a left. One block further east, at NE 3rd Avenue, and a short block from Biscayne Boulevard, they were met by a double row of Miami Police in riot gear blocking the street. It was by then somewhere around 8 A.M.. At first, many of the marchers milled around in a pretty tight knot. Some had ventured north on 3rd Avenue, but were blocked from going past NW 1st Street by Miami Police who had blocked that intersection. Others, wandered down 3rd Avenue to SE 1st Street where the east and south streets were blocked by Miami police/
This was the aerial view that many Miamians saw from the news helicopters. On the ground the usual kinds of things were happening. Photographers were taking pictures of people in the crowd, and especially those who for whatever reason felt the need to go up and either lecture, scold, try to convert, or just scream at the police. On the north side of 3rd Avenue a couple anarchists had spray painted their tag - a circle with a capital A - on the roll down shutters of some the closed shops, only to be called on it by other protesters who were challenging them to quit doing that because it was both stupid, and reflected on all of them.
On the south side of 3rd Avenue at SE 1st Street, which had largely been empty, a handful of protesters started dancing in the middle of the intersection, which attracted others, including some of the larger puppeteers and a group of drummers.
It was a little tense, but peaceful. I wondered whether it was all going to end here with the police rolling up with buses and arresting everyone. That was the only reason I could think of for stopping the march less than a block from the boulevard.
After about 45 minutes of milling around, my suspicions that arrest was eminent were increased when the police on the south side of SE 3rd Avenue crossed over and started trying to push the protesters back toward Flagler Street.
These kinds of actions by the police are always confrontational. No one likes to be physically pushed around, no matter what the situation is. In a protest situation, when you're being pushed around by police in riot gear, it can get especially hairy. The adrenaline starts flowing, the fear factor of physical injury kicks in, and for photographers and TV guys trying to take photographs, you find yourselves sometimes between the police and the protesters, and both of them are using you as a battering ram against the other.
It took about 15-20 minutes to push everyone off of 3rd Avenue and onto Flagler Street. At that point I was pretty much convinced that the jig was up and the buses were lining up to come in and haul everyone away.
Then, the police that had been on Flagler Street, west of 3rd Avenue started pushing everyone east. It was somewhere in this struggle that someone tossed what I guess were balloons filled with white paint at the front row of the cops and several had their helmets and chest plates covered with the paint.
It was here were things got more confrontational. Police were using their batons not only sideways to push people, but some started using them as clubs. I was told that one specific policeman lost it and punched a protester in the mouth before one of his Commanders grabbed him and pulled him back. Protesters were trying to form lines as a way to push the cops back., because they believed they were being forced into each other in a smaller and smaller space, and that in and of itself is frightening.. And then, all of a sudden, the police, who had been behind us, blocking our access to the boulevard were gone.
I think it's reasonable to ask at this point, why?
Why did the police stop the marchers from continuing east on Flagler and out onto the boulevard when the marchers first reached the intersection of Flagler and Third Avenue?
After the street was blocked, when they finally decided to let people into the boulevard, why didn't they remove the police blocking access to the boulevard first, and then announce to everyone that the boulevard was now accessible, instead of going through the shoving and pushing match that was widely broadcast on television, and which I am told by people who watched it, provided visuals of these shoving matches which local newscasters used to bad mouth the protesters and portray them as violent.
In short, was the stoppage of the protesters before they could reach the boulevard a staged event for the morning newscasts in the hopes that things might actually have gotten out of hand?
Another problem, and one that the police cannot claim they were ignorant of, or incapable of solving, is the problem of communication during this kind of situation.
It is impossible at one of these protests, especially in a situation like what happened on Flagler Street to hear anything that anyone says who is further away that 2 feet from you. The noise at these events is all encompassing, and it's one of the primary things that contributes to the high levels of stress that affects everyone, protesters and police alike. You've got 3,4,5 or more helicopters above you, you're in small narrow streets with buildings with sharp hard surfaces that bounce back the sound, and the noise at street level from the marchers and the police makes it almost impossible to hear anything.
If there were any commands or instructions issued by the police, no one heard them. Yet, had the police had any sort of portable sound system, they could have announced something like this, "Attention everyone. We are not going to arrest you. We are not going to pen you up in the street. If you will turn around and look, you will see that the access to Biscayne Boulevard has been cleared. You can now go out to the boulevard." And when I say turn around and look, it's because everyone becomes so focused on paying attention to what's happening in front of you, that very few people have the presence of mind to turn around. Also, in a crunch, even when you do look back, all you can see are the people looking at you.
I'd thought about all of this from prior protests, and made the suggestion at a meeting held at City Hall between city officials, police, the community relations board and a number of protest group leaders that the single thing that I thought was important for everyone so that there wouldn't be the kind of confusion that occurred in Los Angeles when the police declared an unlawful assembly on a bull horn which no one heard, and then they went out and shot everyone they could, was for the police to secure a better sound system to try and avoid this problem. Even a portable playback system used by film crews all over the world when they shoot music videos on the streets would have made communication better. Everyone thanked me for my suggestion, and then promptly ignored it.
Had police done that then I don't think there would have been the problems that occurred. In fact, I'd go further and say that if cities were to wire the protest areas like stadiums wire for rock concerts before a protest, it might prove to be an effective way to try and minimize some of the confusion that occurs at the events.
But then again, what appeared on morning television provided the kind of visuals that look far more menacing on television than they actually were, and one has to wonder whether it was done for that purpose.
Once out on the boulevard, things kind of mellowed out. They always do. Many protests have periods of short, intense clashes or confrontations between police and protesters followed by long lulls. In my book, I described what happens at these protests in a caption under photographs of a protester and a cop juxtaposed to look toward each other by writing, "Waiting for the other side to do something is often the primary strategy between protesters and police."
Hours can go by between confrontations. In the interim, people will sit down on the sidewalks or the street, they'll mill around, they'll visit and talk with each other, some, because they're young and full of energy will play games or joke around, and of course everyone at some time has to go find a bathroom.
That's what basically went on after everyone got out on the boulevard. At the same time, you had many of the same people who had earlier felt the need to go up and either lecture, scold, try to convert, or just scream at the police do it all over again, and this provided the still photographers and TV camera crews something to photograph, and the reporters someone to interview.
Some time around 10 AM, one of the PIO's for the Miami Police Department came out and started walking in front of the line of police announcing that "This has been declared an unlawful assembly. You are being ordered to disperse."
Of course, this begs several questions. First, why, since everyone was more or less mellowed out and scattered across the width of the boulevard from Flagler to between NE 1st and 2nd Street, what prompted this order to disperse?
Secondly, disperse where? This was the designated protest area.
The police, who had also been trying to mellow out and had taken off their tear gas masks,, got back in phalanx position, and started pushing the protesters back. And they had a lot to push back, because the cry had gone out that this was going on, and many had jumped up to man the barricades you might say.
Any time police attempt to move protesters, it becomes a very tense situation. It is these situations which often provide the best photographs but also where you'll sometimes see real acts of courage as civilian protest monitors try to head off potential struggles but putting themselves in the middle of it all to separate police and protesters, and also as protesters try to help and support each other from being crushed , and also on this morning there occurred a pretty despicable act of bullying which could have put 2 young women in harms way..
One act of courage came from the head of the Miami Community Relations Board who repeatedly attempted to put herself between the police and the protesters in an effort to try and reason with the protesters to move back peacefully. It's often thankless, sometimes unsuccessful, and most of all dangerous. I give her great credit, and only wonder why others in this community - or on that board for that matter - didn't join her, or another female member who I've been told was trying to do the same thing further down.
On the despicable side, some guy in his mid-forties, bald, wearing a blue shirt and light tan pants with a tie, was observed by my friend and fellow photographer Betsy, haranguing a couple teenage girls when all this started, screaming at them that they should get up front because, "They won't hit girls!"
For a middle-aged man to be trying to instigate and put in harms way two young, and clearly scared and impressionable teenage girls, the son-of-a-bitch deserves as ass whipping. Not only would the cops hit girls, they'll club them, kick them, and shoot them if it comes to that. The choice as to where you want to be in these situations should always be yours. No one should try and do what this guy did. It's just unconscionable behavior, and it's the only such incident in all my years of covering protests that I've ever heard of someone doing something this scummy.
In the end, and without things getting completely out of hand, the police pushed everyone north of NE 1st Street, and that's where things settled down for about 15-20 minutes, until the PIO went through the drill again, announcing that it was an unlawful assembly, and that people had to disperse again.
Once again, the police firmed up, and pushed everyone back to NE 2nd Street.
In the interim between the push from 1st to 2nd street is when the incident occurred where the undercover cops grabbed some guy, and as they dragged/carried him out, a couple of them pulled out Tazer guns and shot a couple people - or at least shot at them - with the Tazers..
IT'S NOT OUR FAULT - THE PROTESTERS WERE BLOCKING THE ENTRANCE
The ultimate outcome of the police pushing the protesters north from Flagler to 2nd Street is that most of them ended up congregating in front of the entrance to the ATT Amphitheater. The time was now around 10:30-11:00 AM, and the various unions groups were beginning to unload from buses and make their way to the Amphitheater where they had scheduled a large rally before their march began at 2:00 P.M..
Everyone was now packed in between NE 2nd Street and NE 3rd Street. Police in riot gear blocked off all access either north of 3rd, or south of 2nd, and they also blocked access west on 2nd Street. The only way that people could come in or out was on 3rd Street, west to NE 2nd Avenue. 2nd Avenue, coming south from 5th Street was blocked to vehicles, but the various sandwich shops along 2nd Avenue that cater to the community college were open, and many took a break to get some lunch.
During this time it was reported afterwards, that thousands of union members on buses waiting to get to the rally were turned back because supposedly the "protesters" were blocking the entrance to the ATT Amphitheater, and no one could get in.
I don't know the real numbers, but clearly there were busloads of union members that were denied the opportunity to attend the rally of the march. This is how the Miami Herald reported on it Saturday:
AFL-CIO leaders said police kept busloads of demonstrators
from participating in the march by blocking access to a
''They were simply not allowed to enter the protest area,'' said
AFL-CIO spokeswoman Debra Dion. ``Police officers in the
perimeter just told them to turn back and go home. These were
retirees who had prepared for this for weeks and had gotten
on buses at 4:30 a.m. to come to Miami.''
I would think it reasonable to conclude that the police moved the protesters purposely as a way to create congestion, and then used the congestion to justify turning away the buses of union members.
And why not? The AF of L might huff and puff, but, it's clear that their fellow union members in all of the various police forces in Miami gave lip service at best to the notion of union solidarity and brotherhood. One needs only to read the reports in the newspapers of middle-aged, and older union members being beaten, shot, and arrested around the Amphitheater and in other parts of the city to realize that as an old tourist slogan used to brag, the rules are different here. In Miami, union members don't hug you and give you a handshake to show their brotherhood, they shoot you and beat you.
The big question is what will the unions do, besides bitch? Would the AF of L call for a boycott of Miami and Miami Beach tourism as a way to demand accountability for what happened? Next year is an election year. A boycott, and an increased union presence in Florida could have interesting, if uncertain consequences in the 2004 Presidential Election.
The law of unintended consequences is often a byproduct of calamitous events.
THE END OF PART I
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