Letters from the Issue of December 25, 2003
That would be Chief John Timoney: There was so much righteous, justified, and articulate indignation over Miami's handling of the FTAA ministerial meetings that I was hesitant to comment. But I want to congratulate New Times and reporters like Celeste Fraser Delgado for your coverage and dedication.
If there was any doubt in the minds of visiting dignitaries that Miami was capable of mustering as singularly fascist a police state as any of their home countries, the FTAA protests put those doubts to rest. Regarding Miami Police Chief John Timoney, his arrogance alone should be grounds for dismissal. I've been in Miami for 40 years and have known numerous good cops, but I would count the chief among the "out-of-town thugs." The biggest anarchist and scofflaw was hiding behind the top-cop badge.
That would be newspaper thieves: New Times staff writer Celeste Fraser Delgado's account of her arrest during the FTAA protests ("Jailhouse Crock, November 27) must have offended someone. I have no way of knowing who did it or which New Times distribution box was looted, but when I went to throw out my trash on Saturday, lo and behold inside the Dumpster was what looked to be a full newsrack of New Times papers with her story on the cover. Obviously creeps who do stuff like that have no fear of getting in trouble. In fact their actions most likely are condoned by the powers that be.
The only way the evil people among us will succeed with their plans is if good and honest people do nothing. Keep up the good work, New Times.
That would be public officials: Thanks to the Miami Police Department, there is a cloud of shame and disgust hanging over our city. The brutality witnessed by and inflicted upon all who came to practice their constitutional rights will never be forgotten. We saw police harass, intimidate, assault, and batter innocent and nonviolent protesters. What possibly could have been going on behind the FTAA's closed doors that was more important than our civil rights?
Miami police, please reflect upon your actions. Who were you serving and what were you protecting? Owing to your gross misconduct, you, along with Manny Diaz, Alex Penelas, and Chief John Timoney, will be targets forever.
Daniel Clapp, Jr.
That would be my graphic photo: I attended what seemed to me a very peaceful FTAA protest on Thursday afternoon, November 20, not as a protester but as a photographer. I have always felt very safe with policemen. But I was shot two times by the police while photographing the events. A man next to me was shot in the head. The projectile made a gaping hole in his temple and lodged there. Blood was pouring out of the hole and out of his mouth.
I tried to help the man and so only got one photo, but the photo is very graphic and disturbing, with a huge bulge on his forehead where the object lodged. The man was doing nothing to provoke the police and neither was I.
That would be Miami's mayor: FTAA protesters (or as Chief Timoney calls them: punks and knuckleheads) got the message sent by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz: In his city you don't stand still on the sidewalks. FTAA protesters got another message: In Miami the Constitution of the United States is superseded by a police permit to demonstrate. Miami officials simply turned a blind eye to our Constitution, especially that part which states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."
Having seen all the good that Mayor Diaz has done for Miami, I find it hard to believe he would take pleasure in this abuse of power by his police department. No, I choose to believe the problem was that Mayor Diaz somehow lacked a copy of the Bill of Rights. Without those great words of wisdom to guide him, his government had no place to go but wrong.
That would be those who suppress dissent: Before Miami's officials risk further injury from so vigorously clapping each other on the back over how well they protected the city during the FTAA meeting, let me offer an outsider's view. This is the image of Miami reaching the rest of the world: Apparently the principal concern of city leaders was to make sure the FTAA meeting took place with a minimum of disruption. Public protests against the meeting and its proposals were held to an absolute minimum. Going in, then, public officials decided to protect the speech of the meeting participants and discourage speech outside the meetings. This despite the fact that any decisions taken by the unelected participants of the meetings would profoundly affect the lives of us all. To enforce their plan, city leaders used these tactics:
Police visited churches that might shelter FTAA opponents in advance of the meetings to discourage them from offering help, threatening special code inspections and zoning changes.
Permits to allow camping in public spaces were denied.
Police diverted buses of elderly protesters blocks from where they were to gather.
Secret police within the crowds of protesters picked out individuals to attack.
Photo equipment was routinely confiscated.
Police also routinely rounded up groups of people without cause, dumping their belongings in the street, pepper-spraying or clubbing many of them, then holding them incommunicado for hours.
How could it be any different, some ask? Well, when a city receives $8.5 million in federal money to host a single meeting, you would think all manner of special events and facilities could be organized to facilitate the message of the protesters. For example, the city could have made the Orange Bowl available for a protest rally. It also could have hosted numerous tent villages for protesters. After all, those millions in tax dollars didn't come only from proponents of free trade.
Any city serious about becoming the host for a permanent free-trade headquarters would have facilitated teach-ins, debates, forums, and lectures representing both sides of the issue. It would have helped FTAA opponents organize and publicize the events they sponsored to give them a greater voice. It would have used the occasion to increase understanding of the FTAA, NAFTA, WTO, and other components of globalization affecting us all.
Instead city leaders seem content to congratulate themselves that the massive show of state power prevented any disruption of FTAA meetings. They miss the point that dissidents take to the streets and try to tear down fences when their voices are ignored by established government, business, and press officials. Any fool with a police force can suppress protesters. The world is full of cowardly officials with vested interests to protect. But the world is also full of people who will fight to be heard.
To me it's ironic that this happened in Miami, a city full of people who moved there to escape countries where brutal police tactics are all too common. Unless Miami's leaders believe that state repression of dissent is justified in these other countries, they have nothing to be proud of in how they handled it at home.
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