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Thousands Expected to Protest Before Tonight's Heat Game

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Tonight's home opener of the newly stacked Miami Heat should be one of those rare sports moments that brings the entire Miami community together, but as per usual the city has too much dirty laundry to show a truly united front. Instead, the scene outside American Airlines Arena will be marred by thousands of protesting City of Miami police, firefighters and city employees upset about about pay and pension cuts.

Originally, the city had planned to hold a block party outside the arena, but police refused to volunteer to provide security and instead got to work painting up picket signs.

The block party was intended to help showcase the city in a moment of national media attention. Union heads were understandably upset that the city had money to spend ostensibly celebrating athletes who made millions of dollars a year while not enough having enough to save the paychecks and pension plans of thousands of city workers.

The block party was scrapped after the city could not recruit enough police officers to volunteer to work crowd control.

As many as 2,000 to 7,000 union members and supporters are expected to take part. Facing a serious budget shortfall the City Commission voted to cut various city employees' pay from five to 12 percent and made deep cuts into the police and fire pension programs.

"We want to get the most exposure that we can to put our problems out in the street," Police Union head Armando Aguilar told NBCMiami, adding, "Miami can become a more dangerous place. If you want to blame anyone for this, don't blame the city employees. Blame the city officials who caused this problem to begin with."

City of Miami officials are somewhat worried that the protests could blight their hopes that the home opener will show off the city to a national audience and spur tourism.

"This could be seen as a message that Miami is not safe," Mayor Tomas Regaldo tells CBS4 . "And downtown Miami is safe."

Tonight's game against the Orlando Magic will air on ESPN, and it's unlikely that they'll make much mention of the protests.

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