Pick Your Reality

Either FTAA protesters viciously assaulted police, or police viciously assaulted protesters

In the footage isolated protesters stand before a line of riot cops. Among them are a young man in a green shirt and a woman in a red suit jacket and pleated skirt holding a sign. Police shoot pellets at both. "Excuse me, a lady in a suit who's been walking peaceably in front of you for half an hour you shoot in the back?" she scolds them. Timoney in his bike gear can be seen observing from the sidelines. Then police start marching forward, without giving orders to disperse. Kesser, filming as he retreats, walks along the sidewalk toward Miami Dade College amid other photographers and a smattering of protesters, who are also in retreat.

The cops bang their shields with their batons as they advance. You see Bryan Brown, a Miami native and a handyman, on his bicycle ride in front of the police line. Suddenly half a dozen cops reach out and slam him to the ground, wrenching his bike from under him. Then, again without warning or apparent provocation, officers begin firing pellets, rubber bullets, and pepper spray.

Photographers, onlookers, and protesters run for cover. Police keep firing and moving forward. Suddenly Kesser's camera jerks violently and the lens is spattered with blood. That's the moment a police projectile hit him in the head, splitting open his scalp and lodging over his right temple. (He underwent emergency surgery not long afterward.) "To tell you the truth, before this happened, I thought police handled it very well," Kesser says from the living room of his Grove home, his head swaddled in bandages. "But there was no provocation for this."

In the wake of this Third Street violence, police went out hunting. They arrested people all over town, as far away as North Miami Avenue and NE 20th Street. You didn't even have to look like a protester to run afoul of the cops. They arrested a 71-year-old retiree, several AFL-CIO organizers, a New Times reporter, and scores of college kids.

Some have said these people deserved what they got because they knew how tumultuous it was going to be downtown and they put themselves in harm's way. I know other people who were curious and wanted to visit the protests but were afraid they'd be arrested. The trouble with both sentiments is that they automatically cede our right to attend a highly anticipated, widely publicized demonstration. This is what organizers have been saying all along -- that the police were out to intimidate people to keep them from attending, and thus squelching their free speech.

Timoney's overstatement of the facts in his letter mirrors the cops' overreaction on the street, and in that factual vacuum the cops have proved the protesters' point.

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