Headbangers Ball

Claims that police didn't aim at FTAA protesters' upper bodies get a black eye

Miami police Chief John Timoney is old school, but by now he must be aware of several Websites that young techno-geeks who were among FTAA protesters in the city last month have launched into cyberspace. The sites contain videos showing riot police wielding nightsticks and firing rubber bullets and beanbag projectiles at protesters on November 20 in downtown Miami. For Timoney, and elected officials who continue to back his version of events that day, the images that sting the most show police firing at chest level and above upon protesters, and people with bloody head wounds as a result.

The videos should be useful to Miami's thirteen-member Civilian Investigative Panel in the coming months, as panel members look into allegations of police misconduct during the FTAA demonstrations. The footage could help the CIP determine not only who instigated the disturbances in and around the downtown, but also whether the proper police response was to blast rubber bullets and beanbags into the heads of protesters and others.

In addressing the CIP last week, Timoney repeated what by now has become his stock line: Protesters, not cops, started the violence by throwing stuff. "Police officers were assaulted with all sorts of objects from golf balls to bricks to a whole host of other weapons," he told the CIP members. "Marbles and wrenches and nuts, lugs." Demonstrators and others interviewed by New Timesand other news media said riot police assaulted dozens of passive protesters.

If Timoney was aware of all the video that demonstrators and independent filmmakers shot that day, he acted as if he wasn't. "There may be some complaints of bruises and what have you," Timoney conceded. "There were no head wounds as a result of police sticks across people's heads."

Unfortunately for Timoney, the gash Ryan Conrad received on the top of his head contradicts the chief's account. Conrad is a twenty-year-old who attends Bates College in Lewiston, Maine and works as a carpenter for a theater company. He was among several hundred FTAA protesters who marched to the fence surrounding downtown's Inter-Continental Hotel on the morning of November 20 amid the phalanxes of riot police. He was videotaping his fellow demonstrators on SE First Street near the corner of SE Third Avenue when police started clubbing protesters, including him.

"I was bleeding through the scarf I had on my head," Conrad told New Timesduring a recent telephone interview. "There was blood all over my head and all over my hands, and a medic came and grabbed me and the medic sat me down and bandaged my head." He ended up at the wellness center street medics had set up in a rented storefront at 532 N. Miami Ave., although the blows had left him so woozy that he couldn't recall exactly how he had gotten there. Medics also treated three other people who were near him at the protest and had head wounds from police sticks, Conrad said.

"Ridiculous" is how filmmaker Scott Beibin, a 32-year-old Philadelphia resident and director of the independent Lost Film Festival, described Timoney's assertion that no one was injured from a nightstick to the head. "I don't know what he considers a head," Beibin scoffed. As he was filming the morning demonstration, he said, he saw at least a dozen people whose heads were bloodied from police batons.

During Timoney's CIP appearance, the chief suggested that protesters were fortunate that riot police had opted for pepper spray pellets and Taser electric shock devices instead of batons. He has voluntarily experienced both, he noted, and found these crowd-control devices preferable to a skull-clubbing. "I'll opt for the pepper spray or the Taser anytime," he said.

No members of the panel questioned Timoney about rubber bullet or beanbag shots to the head, probably because they had yet to see any of the video anti-FTAA activists have uploaded to the Internet. Timoney testily took a few questions from CIP members, then insisted he had to rush to a prior engagement to provide security at the Boys & Girls Clubs' annual Christmas tree sale on South Dixie Highway and SW 32nd Avenue.

But salvos were fired that night which opened a new phase of the postmortem into police actions against protesters. Shortly after Timoney left the meeting, CIP members approved a motion to hold a public hearing "as soon as possible" to hear complaints and review police policy regarding the FTAA affair. Later on Timoney was clobbered by two television reporters, Michael Putney and Kellie Butler of WPLG-TV (Channel 10), who had covered the chief's CIP appearance. The tease for the station's 11:00 p.m. newscast contained footage of local filmmaker Carl Kesser's blood splattering on the lens of his video camera; while taping the police advance on protesters on the afternoon of November 20, Kesser was struck in the head with a beanbag fired by a cop. The lead story, reported by Butler, showed the filmmaker pointing at the bandages wrapped around his head and saying there was a hole "the size of a golf ball" under them. Putney was shown asking the police chief to look at the disturbing footage. Timoney refused, accusing Putney of trying to create "a Jerry Springer moment." (Timoney did not respond to a request for comment.)

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