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Loughner, known in some anti-globalization circles by her nickname, Bork, was the first anti-FTAA protester to file a complaint with Miami's incipient Civilian Investigative Panel. The CIP is charged with investigating allegations of police misconduct and has subpoena power to do so. Voters approved the body in a November 2001 referendum, after concerns about fatal police shootings of black suspects converged with Cuban-American outrage over the MPD's aggressive response to the Elian riots in April 2000.
Loughner delayed her return home to Washington, D.C. in order to attend a December 2 appearance by Miami police Chief John Timoney in the CIP's small conference room downtown. She has a special bond with him. He was Philadelphia police commissioner when cops arrested approximately 400 protesters during the 2000 Republican National Convention. Among them was Loughner, who sustained bruises allegedly from police boots and torn fingernails from clinging fiercely to her anti-death penalty banner ("Stop the Texas Killing Machine").
She sat in a corner and filled out a complaint form while the thirteen-member panel listened to Timoney deliver an hour-long "overview" of the "policing" of the FTAA demonstrations. Protesters had thrown "a whole host of objects" at police for ten minutes before units of helmeted cops began to fire back with rubber bullets and beanbag projectiles, he noted. "A lot of tear gas had been thrown at this point. Not by police, by protesters," the chief asserted. "Liar," Loughner muttered as he spoke. As Timoney concluded his speech and left the room, Loughner followed him and said, "I was tortured by your officers," before an officer lightly bumped her away from the exiting chief.
The 39-year-old Loughner is a member of Mayday DC and Homes Not Jails, two groups that decry the lack of affordable housing. She had relocated from rural West Virginia in 1998, fleeing a sordid past in which her husband was sent to prison for 50 years in 1996 for raping their then five-year-old daughter. She lost custody of all three of her children after insisting upon her husband's innocence. In D.C., though, Loughner is more media darling than tragic tabloid character. She has turned up in reports by such radical dailies as the Washington Post and Washington Times and even the anarchical news service UPI. For example, in February 2001 she was among a group of activists arrested for illegally entering an abandoned row house in the nation's capital and refurbishing it for homeless people. (She represented herself at the trial and a jury acquitted her.) During a cold snap in January 2002, she was among twelve protesters arrested for unauthorized entry into D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams's office. They demanded the city open a shelter in an abandoned school building to keep people from freezing to death. (Two people later died of hypothermia on the D.C. streets that winter, UPI reported. Loughner and three others were arrested again several months later after they barricaded themselves inside a boarded-up school.) In June 2002 Loughner was quoted in a Washington Times article about a federal court ruling that scuttled a law banning protests at the front steps of the U.S. Capitol. "This ruling allows for a freer voice at a time when it's definitely needed," Loughner was quoted as saying.
Loughner is a certain type of protester who came to Miami to express opposition to the FTAA. She and her people-over-profits ilk follow the "creative nonviolence" tradition, which emerged during the anti-Vietnam War movement and whose contemporary followers engage in civil disobedience for sundry anti-corporate causes. In other words, she wasn't about to let police or a police barrier stand in her way, if she could peacefully get by.
In fact officers did peacefully allow her past, as Loughner, with picket sign in hand, walked south toward the fence surrounding the Inter-Continental Hotel at about 1:00 p.m. on November 20. "They let me through. They said I should look for somebody in charge," Loughner recounts, then confesses: "I never really cared if I found somebody in charge. I just wanted to get to where I had a legal right to protest, which was the fence." She would have gone farther if possible. "If I could peacefully persuade my way past, of course I would have. Why wouldn't I? I should have had the opportunity to protest right in front of the building."
Loughner says that before her arrest she had spent several hours at the fence holding a sign that read: "Stop privatizing housing. No FTAA. More public housing. Stop Hope 6, which is a really bad HUD program." The incident report states she was "observed using her cellular phone and providing vital information to individuals that were participating in this breach of peace. In addition this defendant was heard relaying information such as when officers were wearing their protective equipment and other strategic data that would possibly interfere with the safety of the operation."
Loughner admits she had been talking on her cell phone to FTAA Resistance Radio (www.ftaaimc.org/en/static/ radio_en.shtml) and to a friend from Indymedia a few blocks away. "I was giving a live report of what I was seeing. I had Herald reporters behind me doing the same thing," she explains. "When the police marched out I'm like, 'Oh my God, they're sending another hundred cops your way!' When they moved the armored cars out I was on the radio at the time. I'm like, 'Oh my God, two armored cars just went by.'" When chants turned to screams and police moved toward demonstrators, she phoned to update. "I said, 'Well, now they're tear-gassing you, in the crowd. People need to go help the people that are getting tear-gassed.' I talked about what I saw."
This is Loughner's account of what happened next: Two Miami cops, one of whom had been "nice" to her earlier, approached her and took her sign. "The sign was in the shape of a house," she notes. "The stick was the same stick that everybody had, which was just a little wooden stick. I'd passed through three police lines and had it checked every time.... But suddenly it's illegal, and I'm like, 'I don't think it is.' So we're in this little minor argument about is-it-illegal-I-want-my-property-back-that's-mine-you-can't-steal-it. And they're like, 'You're leaving now or getting arrested.' And I'm like, 'OKAY, but can I have my sign back?' And they said, 'Oops, you didn't leave.'"
Realizing her moment to avoid arrest was gone, she sat down. The police cuffed her, lifted her up, and took her to a squad car. She was forced to lean face down on the trunk of the vehicle. She refused to identify herself. "They asked me my name. I said I have the right to remain silent until I speak to an attorney. I will only answer questions in the presence of my attorney. I kept saying that." They searched her bag. They waited about 45 minutes for another officer to arrive.
It was during that time that the alleged thumb-twisting took place. The third officer had arrived, whom Loughner refers to as "the big guy."
"My hands are behind my back," she recounts during a sit-down interview at New Times, then stands and asks a reporter to put his hands behind his back. "I'm just going to sort of illustrate with you. Your hands are cuffed, pretty tight, and this somebody is like doin' this, and goin' as hard as they can in that direction. 'Tell us your name, tell us your name!' And I mean hard. I thought they were going to break it, the joint, something. It was excruciating ...."
"He says, 'Okay, if she sings a song, we won't have to go into all this.' And he starts beating [a rhythm] on the car, and I'm like, 'I don't even know what you're doing.' He's like, 'C'mon, you know the song,' and he starts beating on the car again." It was the theme song of the Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants.
Loughner says she didn't know it before that day but does now, after singing it numerous times while slumped over the police car. "Finally he teaches it to me. Because I have to then answer it or be threatened with physical violence again," she continues, then sings: "Who is yellow and lives in the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants.
"They had their hands on my hand, which was what was hurting. That was the choice. Sing the song or ... " Her voice trails off. "And I did it. Repeatedly. It wasn't just once they made me sing the song. It was a lot of times," she says, her eyes tearing up. "I've been through protest hell. I've been beaten, I've been wrapped in my banner, stomped on by cops. I've never been as scared. I never felt [before] that the cops had no bottom limit to what they'd do. But I felt these did. I felt that the next thing was the batons and whatever."
It reminded her of stories from the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy two years ago, when police allegedly forced detainees to sing the national anthem of Italy from the Mussolini dictatorship era. "This has happened before," Loughner assures. "It's just that SpongeBob's a lot sillier. American fascism's a lot sillier than Italian fascism."
"There is no reason we would do anything like that to extract a name from a person," Miami police spokeswoman Herminia Salas-Jacobson insists. "You see that in the movies but we don't do that on the street." If necessary, police are allowed to use a thumb hold when making an arrest, she adds. "If I need to control you, I can use your thumb to control you."
Loughner was charged with two misdemcounts of resisting arrest without violence and one of obstruction by a disguised person, apparently for concealing her name. With attorney by her side, she finally stated her name at a November 25 court appearance. She was released without bond after five nights in jail. Her public defender, Manuel Alvarez, says the disguised person charge was dropped because it doesn't apply to refusal to tell an officer one's name. The case is set for trial. Loughner remains charged with one count of resisting arrest and one of failure to obey a lawful order. "We felt that the arrest was completely unfounded," Alvarez concluded.