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Miami's New Police State

Bill Fletcher

Millions of us witnessed - or received a hint of - the Miami spectacle last week at the time of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meetings and protests. Brought to us by the same people who oversaw electoral fraud in November 2000, this stunning and threatening presence of police was almost unbelievable, particularly in light of the fact that the protests were peaceful.

I flew into Fort Lauderdale and took a very expensive cab ride to Miami. The first thing that struck me was that, when I called my hotel for directions, the tone of the hotel staffperson's voice was full of panic. The hotel employee indicated that Biscayne Blvd. and other streets near the hotel had been closed by the police. So the cab driver dropped me off at an exit ramp on Route 95 and I had to walk three-fourths of a mile or so, bags in hand, to get to the hotel. I walked past innumerable police and police vehicles. These police officers looked like they had been plucked from a scene out of a science fiction movie. Armed and armored with helmets and visors, they were everywhere. I felt as though I were walking through a city where a military coup d'etat had just taken place.

Streets were blocked off, stores were closed, helicopters were flying overhead, yet demonstrators found ways of converging on the legally permitted rally site. While the march that was held following the initial rally the afternoon of November 20th was peaceful and uneventful, a couple of hundred marchers returning to the rally site approached an artificial wall that had been set up by the police to restrict protestors from getting too close to the meeting site where the FTAA was being debated. It was at that point that that the police marched on these direct action protestors.

I watched as rubber bullets and tear gas were fired at the unarmed protestors. The police converged on the protestors, almost like a scene from the classic film Potemkin, where Russian troops marched on demonstrators in 1905. While this was taking place, the official news coverage was disparaging the protesters as hooligans, inflaming the environment.

That was Thursday. On Friday, when nothing big and exciting was planned, I witnessed another dramatic show of force by Miami's finest. This time, the provocations by the police were evident for all to see. I witnessed young anti-FTAA activists being pulled over, who were simply walking down the streets or driving. In several cases these individuals were put up against walls, forced to sit down in front of the police and/or arrested outright. Stories continue to circulate about what happened or is alleged to have happened to those arrested.

The anger that I hold due to this display of arrogant intimidation is difficult to communicate. A legal protest had been planned. It was planned by labor unions, community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, and various other activists. It was planned to demonstrate opposition to a fundamentally undemocratic trade deal that was being forced down the throats of the people of the Western hemisphere by the Bush administration in its mad quest for better conditions for corporate profitability. Having been excluded from any meaningful participation in the lead up to the FTAA gathering, activists from the entire hemisphere converged on Miami to express their outrage and antipathy toward such an agreement.

As it turned out, the Miami (and Florida) establishment went out of its way to promote an atmosphere of panic and dread within the larger population. For weeks prior to the FTAA meetings and protests, the press had been promoting anticipation of the worst, something akin to the fear that Romans must have felt as Attila the Hun and his hoards approached the gates of their fair city. Inferences of terrorist threats and mad anarchists were floated in order to color the view of the entire protest. Despite the fact that the labor unions under the leadership of the AFL-CIO, along with other protestors, planned around a peaceful expression of opinion, the news media turned the whole situation on its head into invasion Miami.

I have seen a possible future for the U.S.A. and it is not a pretty picture. The lords of the White House, along with their various corporate and political allies have decided in no uncertain terms to play upon the post-9/11 fears among the people in order to restrict the ability of the people to express themselves. Moreover, they are carrying out a preemptive political strike against any and all opponents of their corporate-guided globalization. It was not simply a matter of the police presence, however. The pitiful national coverage of the Miami events, as well as the caricaturizing of the protestors by local and national media, presented the demonstrations as more of a circus than an example of growing opposition to President Bush and his determined march toward a world safe for profits for his corporate friends and allies.

Miami was living proof that the USAPatriot Act and the growing repression that we have experienced since 9/11/2001 has very little to do with any war against terrorism. Rather, the entire scene is as if it were out of a film, scripted to the "t." Play upon fears, encourage passivity in the face of arrogance, distort the news, foment lies and half-truths, this becomes the screenplay for the 21st century entry of the police state into the U.S.A.

Interestingly, it is not just and no longer Black folks who are the sole recipients of the baton and pepper spray in this brave new world. This go round all one has to do is to raise one's hand and say, "…excuse me, but I don't agree…" and, presto, one becomes an enemy of homeland security.
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