up close blow by blow account of the FTAA action
I have changed Names and places to protect the innocent but the rest is unedited from an email account of this persons experience in Miami, Florida on Wednesday the 19th and Thursday the 20th of November, 2003
Most of this account is written from my perspective. Events that I did not witness, but came from other sources are in italics. |
As you are probably aware by now, things in Miami got pretty crazy. On Monday night I crossed into Florida on a Greyhound bus. We stopped in Jacksonville where passengers on all buses had there bags thoroughly searched. I got through the checks okay. I arrived in Miami early Tuesday morning and found my way to the house where my folk would be staying. To my surprise the house that we were staying at was a mansion with it's own lake! What a great deal.
Most of Tuesday was spent relaxing and getting food for the 150 or so people staying at the mansion. During a meeting, a solidarity agreement was reached between union workers and anti-capitalist activists stating that each group wou;d respect and participate in the actions of the other, as well as lend as much support as possible when necessary.
On Wednesday, I spent a great deal of time at the welcome center running into people I had not seen in a few years and preparing for the protests the next day. park and I and a girl from canada that we started hanging out with joined a drum corps. We would be marching with them during the protest.
Wednesday afternoon trade delegates from South American countries such as Ecuador and Brazil (98% of voters in Brazil voted against the FTAA. Americans were never asked there opinion.) spoke to protesters to let us know that our presence was giving them the ability to stand against the United States government and refuse to bow to imperial pressure.
Thursday, November 20
7:00 am A group of us arrived at the park in downtown Miami in which the march was to start. It was already surrounded by police cars. Obviously, they had someone on the inside informing them of our plans. We began searching for other activists without having the police stop us. In the previous few days people had been grabbed off the street. The protest was to be organized around a padded bloc that was designated to take down the fence surrounding the hotel that the FTAA meetings were being held in.
A large number of people who would be in the padded bloc were arrested en route to the protest. They were severely beaten. This loss of manpower was to have a detrimental effect on the rest of the day.
7:30 am We reached the area where the march would now be starting. When we arrived the pagans had already begun a spiral dance. It was a beautiful dance with a beautiful sound. After some delay, because we were surrounded by riot police, the march began.
8:00 am We walked along with the drum corps making music for people to dance to. An amazing group of flag dancers led the way. After marching a couple of blocks we came to an intersection and stopped as the two directions we could go had riot police at the end of the block. At some point the decision was made to move a large portion of the march east. Several of us remained at the south direction to keep the intersection open in case we needed it.
As people began pulling away, the police immediately began advancing. We linked arms across the street with our backs to the police in an attempt to halt the police advance. When they reached us, the frony line of police braced against us with their shields while a second line prodded us with their batons.
At first they did not push very hard with the batins. This did not last. They began to jab us in the ribs and kidneys. A woman to my right steeled herself and looked over her shoulder to tell a cop, "ooh that tickles." They began punching the batons into our backs. The woman to my left was bouncing back and forth because they were hitting her so hard. She began to cry because she was in so much pain. We could not get her out of the line because the reporters were in the way. People began screaming at the police to stop hurting her. The beating only became more savage. Because I was so close, I could feel the baton that was striking her. I snaked my hand back and twisted the baton, forcing the officer to lose his grip and relieving pressure on the woman.
At this point several police turned their attention toward me. Numerous batons began punching into my ribs and spine. I pushed back against their shields tryung to protect myself. The ends of our chain began to collapse and the police began to encircle us in a Nazi style cauldron move. Noticing this we surged forward to break free. Several of us spilled out of the armored grasp of the police. Others did not make it.
As we tried to reorganize the police shot pepper spray into the face of a man from Fort Collins. I tried to bring my goggles down, but the spray doused my eyes. I stumbled out of the line spraying saline into my eyes.
A brother from my home town whom I will call Adam did not make it out of the cauldron move. He was arrested and taken to a secret prison built specifically for the FTAA protest. He was with 17 other people. Adam refused to be silent. He kept quoting Ghandi, Dr. King, and Che Guevarra. Eventually an officer of color told him that he understands why everybody is protesting, but he is bound be duty and has to do his job. He then leaned close to Adams ear and said, "Power to the people."
Eventually Adam was told that he had a bad attitude and was going to be placed in the "icebox" to think about his behavior. The "icebox" was a small cell that was kept at approximately 40 degrees. He was left there for 2 hours. This is a form of torture.
9:00 am We continued East along the fence to the Miami arena. This was a large open area in which it would be difficult to stand against the police. Protesters wandered around chanting and discussing what to do. Eventually, the remaining members of the padded bloc (about a dozen people) threw grappling hooks over the fence and began pulling it down. The fence began to visibly sway when the police shot each of the people pulling it down with rubber bullets in the same place on each of their knees. It is illegal for police to shoot someone directly with a rubber bullet. They have to bounce it off something else. The accuracy with which the riot police shot each person in the knee demonstrates the great deal of training they have had in using such weapons. This information will become more important as the day progresses.
The police launched concussion grenades into the crowd moving them away from the fence. Once again the police began advancing on us. Once again we began linking arms to stop them, this time facing forward. I was impressed to see that most of the protestors holding the line were women. Not taking time to warm up this time, the police began thrusting there clubs into peoples stomachs, knocking the wind out of them. The cop in front of me was actually going for my groin. I kept raising my leg to protect myself and noticed that every time I did, the heavily armored police would back away as if they were afraid I would hurt them. I began using this to my advantage, but Mr Groin Stabber would have none of it. He began to swing his club overhand at my head. I dodged the first blow but was not able to avoid the second. He struck the right side of my head knocking me unconscious for a few seconds. When I came to, someone was dragging me away from the police line. He must have also struck my right shoulder because I had an intense pain there and was not able to move my arm for a couple minutes.
I stood up and took a couple wobbly steps. It would have been best for me to leave the action at that point, but I was dazed and not thinking properly from the blow I had taken in the head. As I linked arms with the people around me. A man was screaming at the cop who had hit me. "That was vioence. You are a violent person. What is your badge number?" He got close enough to see the badge number and then shouted it to the crowd. Everyone began chanting the badge number. The police looked quite frightened of this. They seemed to wilt.
Then they began advancing. Starhawk moved quickly to stand in front of me. (If you do not know who Starhawk is, I advise you to read a fictional book she wrote called the Fifth Sacred Thing). Not bothering with clubs, the police sprayed both Starhawk and I directly in the face with pepper spray. She took a great deal of it in the eyes and I wearing goggles mostly took it down the throat. She stood calmly with her eyes wide, chemicals dripping from her eyeballs, waiting for someone to help her. I tried to call for a medic but fell to my knees retching. I wish I had her strength!
10:00 am I moved from the front lines and rested on my drum with others from my town. I was very dizzy from swallowing pepper spray and definitely not ready to fight for a little while. The police slowly kept advancing until they had us grouped at the entrance to the Miami Arena where the labor unions would begin a rally at 11:00 (inside the arena). I believe it was for this reason that they did not advance any further. Undercover police grabbed a couple protesters and dragged them into a parking garage across the street like monsters from some horror movie.
11:00 am We decided to wait in line to get in the arena. The police were trying to use the line as a way to sort us out. This really slowed down the process.
12:00 noon We were still waiting in line.
1:00 pm Still in line. Union workers were becoming very angry with the police.
2:00 pm Just as we were about to get into the arena, the AFL-CIO led a march out of the arena. park and I marched with them. We marched in a circuit through downtown. It was amazing to see people stretching as far as the eye could see standing in defiance of the FTAA.
Undercover police tried several times to snatch masked activists. The union brothers and sisters unarrested them each time. Go union!
3:00 pm The march ended where it began at the Miami Arena. park and I and the four women in our affinity group decided we seriously needed rest. We fell asleep on the grass in the arena while good music played on the stage.
3:30 pm I awoke to the sound of the drum corps starting again. People were cheering and marching toward the fence. I woke everyone up to let them know that it had begun again.
park and I ran up to the porto-potties to relieve ourselves before getting our asses kicked. When I came back he was looking over the wall at the protestors. As I walked over, a cop aimed a gun at parks head. I pulled him away from the wall and we joined the march. It was decided in our affinity group that everyone was to exhausted to be effective at direct action and that we should stay toward the back covering park who would be medicing.
By the time protestors were one block from the fence the police had launched an agressive assault. They advanced swiftly launching tear gas, concussion granades, and beating people. They forced us quickly back to the entrance of the arena. From here they began herding us West.
Police forced the closure of the arena and then marched in like storm troopers to surround the remaining 300 union workers inside. These people were not allowed to leave and not allowed access to the bathroom. They were detained in this manner for approximately an hour. They told reporters that they were protecting them from the people outside. Why were they pointing guns at the people they were protecting?
4:00 pm After having been forced back a block. People began using anything they could get their hands on to build a barricade to stop the police advance. The women in our affinity group felt the risk factor was to high and were going to return to the car several blocks west of where we were standing. park and I chose to stay and help as much as we could.
A tense standoff began to develop between us and the police. We watched each other over the barricade, waiting for someone to make a move. Naturally they struck first. They began shooting at us with rubber bullets. Protestors began throwing rocks at the police. Across the crowd I could see a woman who must have been in her seventies clutching a Jobs With Justice sign to her chest and running from the bullets. Those who were brave enough to throw stones were shot in the head. Many of them suffered skull fractures.
A local Miami photographer whom I will call Brenda decided to come to the protest to get some good pictures of human emotion. Brenda is not a political person and considers herself to be quite strong. As she was taking a picture of a man facing the police, that man was shot in the eye. His eyeball burst. She called a friend shortly after crying and screaming, "These are our police. How can they do this to people?"
park and I ran with our knees bent, bodies low, trying to avoid being shot. A bullet bounced off my shoulder but must have hit something else first. Miraculously, even though we were right in front of the police, neither of us were shot. We came to an intersection and were trying to decide which way to go. Most people had turned North. park was leary of going North because we would cross 5th Ave, which was where the federal buildings were. This was an area of automatic arrest.
Police dressed as legal observers began shouting for people to follow them West.
park and I decided to follow the group heading West. As we moved down this street a police car tried to run us over. It veered toward the sidewalk as people tried to get out of the way. This initial car was follows by at least 6 more. They were dividing the people on the street for a mass arrest. I screamed to park to run. We dodged the police cars as they raced through the intersection.
As we escaped the police began shooting at us again. We were running between federal buildings. People were grabbing plastic barricades and throwing them down behind us to block the police. Unfortunately, this enabled the police standing next to those barricades to shoot at us as well. We were so close to the ground that we were nearly crawling as we ran. It was very strange. Police were shooting at us from every direction. Still, we did not get hit. We reached the medical center. where we ran into the women in our affinity group. They had not been able to get the car. Everybody wanted to get away from the medical center to protect those inside.
A friend shouted to us from a sidestreet. He had his car and urged us to jump in. We were about to get the girls but the police closed the intersection seperating us from them.
Many of the people who had been shot by the police were sitting in the medical center waiting for treatment. When they saw the police swarming near they rushed to lock the door. One cop tried to knock the door open, but was not able to, so he reached through and sprayed the already injured people with pepper spray before they locked the door.
Several of us piled into the car, stacked on top of each other. We were taken to the welcome center. As the driver was going back to get another load of people it was decided that park and another friend of ours would return with him to find the women we were with.
5:00 pm Cops dressed like protesters were waving people over to their cars and offering to get people away from the riot police. When the protestors approached the disguised cops would beat them and throw them into the cars and drive away.
The driver that had taken park and our friend returned without them. They had left the car at the same time that the police began a running charge. Because of this they could not get to the car. The police had protestors running at full sprint for 20 blocks, nearly 2 miles, before illegaly detaining and searching them. They took all of park's medic supplies. Another man had all of his money taken.
The welcome center is in a poor black neighborhood. Having been victimized by the police for many years, the people of the neighborhood were very friendly and helpful. They hid protestors and led them back to the welcome center safely.
As the police chased protestors toward the welcome center, everyone began to worry that the welcome center was going to be raided by the approaching police. We received a call that a raid was imminent so locked the welcome center down and headed out.
6:00 pm We drove around the city hiding in different places that were as visible as possible to remain safe.
7:00 pm The welcome center was never raided. We returned for a meeting.
Representatives of the unions gave a press conference in which they stated that they were backing people participating in direct action 100%. They stated that they were opposed to the existing police state as much as they were opposed to the FTAA. None of the footage from this press conference ever made it on the air. Instead reporters showed interviews with police who said that some rowdy, "suspected anarchists" ruined the hard work of non-violent union people.
There was a jail solidarity protest in which peaceful protesters were again beaten and arrested. This time they were not treated after having pepper spray put in their eyes. They were held in small holding cages. When they asked to have the pepper spray washed out of their eyes, the police would turn fire hoses on them. There were seberal cases of people being fondled by police and there are unconfirmed reports of rape by police.
It is interesting to note how closely the treatment of American citizens expressing freedom of speech is to "terrorists" being held in Guantanamo. I am so happy to be leaving this country.
Think on this.
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