Does this remind anyone of any recent events?

“I woke up this morning to the sound of helicopters. Let me tell ya, they can stop our buses and they can try to keep our people out. They can harass us with more cops than we could ever believe. They can try to stop our people from getting in. But they sure as hell can’t stop our movement for social and economic justice for the workers….sisters and brothers – this is a fight not just for economic justice but clearly from what you can see in the streets today this is a fight about whether we will have democracy.”

It is from a speech made by a union organiser at the November 2003 Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) protests in Miami. I will steal a joke and say that the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas is not a complete misnomer…it does have to do with the Americas. This film however is mainly about the ‘model’ for policing that was established by the Miami forces at that particular summit.

The policing issue is the middle section of the film but it begins and ends with a look at Miami and some of the economic conditions that exist in and around the city. Miami is one of (if not the) poorest city in the USA. One solution the city authorities had to this was to build ‘affordable’ track housing. They worked out the costs to suit families earning $50,000 to $80,000 a year in an area where most people are earning around $10,000 to $15,000. Much of the land these homes are built on contains toxic substances.

It also has a look at the situation of workers that are affected by the decisions made at the summit. In Immokalee, 115 miles south of Miami there are immigrant South American workers who have to pick 2 tons of tomatoes to make 50 dollars. The local focus of the film is one of its stronger elements as a lot of documentaries of this sort tend to focus on the international issues to the detriment of local ones.

At the end the film returns to Overtown – one of the poorest areas in the city. A host of industries that didn’t clean up after they left and an expressway built directly through it devastated the area. Marvin Dunn, leader of the Overtown Community Garden project addresses a crowd of activists by saying that they ‘haven’t had so many white folks in Overtown since the clan rode through in ’31.’ In an attempt to reclaim some local space the community groups teamed up with the activists in order to build a community garden – without asking permission. The activists held a workshop on permaculture. They now have crops that they can harvest for the community. Inspiring stuff – and activists and community groups working together is a story that isn’t told often enough. A UK example is the Liverpool dockers being joined by groups such as Reclaim the Streets and despite being initially sceptical they were eventually extremely grateful for the help.

Police operations obviously do not begin on the day of the summit. In the run up to the conference three to four thousand homeless people were forcibly removed from the areas where they slept rough so as not to offend the eyes of the delegates as they arrived, Laws to stop more than 7 people gathering without a permit were passed and activists or even suspected activists were arrested ‘pre-emptively’ before the summit.

The US local and national media had also clearly marked which side of the ‘debate’ they would be on by embedding themselves with the police but not the protestors (24 journalists each day). The Miami Herald had put itself on the welcoming committee for the summit and is alleged to have given the summit $217,000 in free advertising and $67,000 in donations. This is doubly suspicious as the FTAA agreement removed certain media consolidation laws that these companies may have had interest in.

Policing at this summit was considerably more brutal than what was experienced at Gleneagles. One woman, walking away from the police lines with her back turned is shot in the leg with what I assume is a plastic bullet. Bizarrely, this woman was wearing a business suit and said she only came out to join the protests because the police had the put the ‘fear of god’ about the protestors into the business community but all she could see was police totalitarianism. This was not the only allegation of people being shot in the back at these protests .

Tear gas, Tazers and many more weapons were used by the police. A Democracy Now journalist was pepper sprayed. One stunning section of the film is the eyewitness accounts from locals of the poor Overtown area saying that the police encouraged them to beat up and rob protestors and told them the sort of people to look out for. They were supposedly told that they would not be prosecuted for doing so.

Some of this behaviour might concern the authorities you would think? Wrong.

“I think we have a model here for the rest of the world to really emulate for the future when they have these sort of events take place”

Kathy Fernandez Rundle – Miami State Attorney

Some police tactics that were used in Scotland are visible in this film. For example, police saying that protestors can’t go to a certain area because the police themselves are not sure what is going on. One policeman admitted it’s a frustration tactic. Presumably it failed in Miami as it did here.

There is footage of prisoner solidarity demonstrations held after the meetings. Protestors are given three minutes to disperse. Some did, some didn’t. The people that remained were told they had another two minutes. They did disperse, but were attacked by police within one minute with pepper spray and batons. Minus the pepper spray this is not far off from some of the scenes in Edinburgh.

The FTAA left Miami and by the time they were gone there had been 283 arrests which resulted in no convictions. Furthermore, Miami Activist Defence and the National Lawyers Guild filed a federal lawsuit against the city, the mayor, police chief Timoney, Homeland Defence Secretary Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft for ‘rampant abuse of the constitution.’

Police forces, backed with new anti-terror laws are being given the green light to treat activists, protestors and demonstrators as if they are terrorists. Blair said he could ‘not rule out’ anti-terror laws being used by the police against protestors. It is vital that the line between peaceful protest and murderous attack is not blurred in such a manner that allows governments to stamp out all dissent.

The Miami Model can be downloaded for free here

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