By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"I thought they let me behind the police line because I look like a harmless soup-kitchen lady," she told me. But when she was arrested late Thursday afternoon, for "endangering police," she discovered that the cops already knew her identity. "I think they let me sit there because they wanted to keep an eye on me," she said.
As Bork talked, a teenager with bright pink hair was pushed in beside me. She'd been beaten pretty badly; there was a raw gash on the bridge of her nose and contusions on her forehead and cheeks. She reeked of whiskey. "I was just marching and all of a sudden the cops started hitting me, man," she told me later. But when she got into the paddy wagon she was too disturbed for conversation, screaming and swearing and kicking the truck's steel wall. Bork calmed her down in a soothing voice.
The last to slide in was a frail college student I called Kitten. She said she was 21 but with her tiny five-foot frame and pouty oval face, she looked more like 12. She was arrested at gunpoint by a SWAT team after she and three strangers tried to hide in an abandoned downtown building when a fracas broke out following the officially sanctioned protest march. "I just don't like how it feels in here," she whined, head doubled over her knees.
"We all feel that way," Bork comforted her. "That's okay."
For the next three hours at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in west Miami-Dade we were herded from holding cell to holding cell, tiny concrete-block rooms equipped with a toilet and a metal bench. Pink Hair was put in a room by herself, screaming and jumping on the bench. Porch, Houdini, and Bork consulted on jail strategy. When we were at last allowed to make a phone call, I learned from my mother that my backpack would not be returned to me upon my release. As it turned out, the cops had simply discarded it, along with the possessions of many others detained. By sheer coincidence, attorney and former Miami ACLU president John De Leon came upon the scattered piles of personal effects while inspecting the neighborhood south of the Convergence Center. He scooped up the items and held them for safekeeping.
We spent the night in cold cells at TGK, listening to Pink Hair rage. The next morning we met with public defenders, handcuffed together in groups of eighteen. We were told we had three choices: plead guilty, plead not guilty (then wait in jail until someone posted our bail), or plead guilty with adjudication withheld -- which meant we would admit guilt, but because the charges were minor, they wouldn't appear on our records as criminal convictions. That was the quickest way to get out of jail, but it also meant you wouldn't be able to sue later for wrongful arrest.
The Jane Does -- Bork, Porch, and Houdini -- pleaded not guilty and bond was set at $5000 each. Kitten, Pink Hair, and Claudia the artist all accepted the guilty plea. "I am sorry," Claudia yelled to the rest of us, "but I have to be free!" Secure in the knowledge that the steelworkers union would support her, Laura Winter pleaded not guilty. I too was prepared to plead not guilty, but the prosecutor dropped the charges against me and against three out of the four Colorado men arrested with me; the fourth copped a plea. By Friday afternoon all five of us were out of jail.
That evening, when the five of us who'd been arrested were reunited at my house with the rest of the Gunnison Peace Initiative, the other members told their story of how the peaceful protest in downtown Miami had turned ugly. At precisely 4:00, they said, the entire line of police fronting the security perimeter at Biscayne Boulevard and Flagler Street slammed their batons into the stomachs of protesters without warning. The protesters fled but the police kept coming. One group of cops ran toward the Bayfront Park amphitheater, where they reportedly tear-gassed people who were quietly looking on.
Other squads of riot police herded protesters north and west. Black-clad anarchists took a stand near the federal courthouse, throwing rocks and dragging iron barriers into the street to set up a barricade between protesters and police. Around the corner from the courthouse, at Miami Avenue near Fifth Street, the Gunnison group said they saw riot police invade the storefront "Wellness Center," where medics were treating injured protesters. The cops allegedly fired pepper spray into the building and also sprayed the face of the woman at the front door.
Police drove the retreating protesters deep into Overtown, where they were detained and forced to dump their belongings onto the ground, but not arrested. Instead, the Gunnison group said, police told them they were in the "worst neighborhood in Miami" and then abandoned them to meet their fate -- except for the four young men who left the group before the downtown melee and ran into me. They were detained, arrested, charged with crimes, and sent to jail as I was -- for doing nothing but walking down the street.