Police State 

Last week In Miami, the battle was the story.

Page 3 of 5

The advisers suggested that protesters leave identification behind, and refuse to identify themselves once arrested. "The goal is to provide solidarity."

At the convergence center, meetings were conducted by consensus, not democratically. If one person had strong objections to a plan of action, the plan would be amended enough to draw him back into the fold. Affirmation was given not by vote, or by yeas, but by "twinkles" -- a fluttering of the fingers in the air.

But as much as the movement had abandoned traditional hierarchical methods, it had also apparently adopted the corporate world's media management techniques. When I brought out my camera to take some pictures, the leader immediately saw me and asked the group who could vouch for me. Holland, who had come with me, was nowhere around. Within minutes, an activist asked who I was. I told him I was from the alternative press. He explained that pictures were not allowed inside, as many of these people would be putting themselves on the line the next day.

He escorted me out and introduced me to Tracy Lerman, who served as a media liaison for the convergence center. With a bored look, she listened to my pitch -- that if I couldn't take pictures, I'd like to just observe the movement from the inside, both literally and figuratively. But no, I couldn't go back inside. She handed me a position paper outlining the "Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas." I glanced at it -- the list was a soundbite on paper, talking about the FTAA undermining labor rights and increasing poverty -- and shoved it in my pocket.

That same evening, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney dropped by the convergence center and finalized a unique agreement with demonstrators. With thousands of union workers coming in, including retired and elderly members, Sweeney was worried a confrontation between young activists and police could leave innocent bystanders injured. It was agreed the demonstrators would hold a separate march, early in the morning. By 2 p.m., when the permitted march was under way, all the tear gas should have long cleared out.

That was the plan, anyway.

Later that evening, we turned on the TV news and learned that police had raided an abandoned mansion and arrested a half-dozen anarchists. The police gave the cameras a tour of the booty -- there were bicycle inner tubes (for slingshots, we were told) and a few cans of Sterno. The breathless tone of the anchor was common; across Miami, reporters were "embedded" with police, and dutifully parroted whatever claptrap the cops told them.

Thursday was the day. We awoke before dawn to meet at the Government Center downtown. From there, we'd march down Flagler Street to the water, where it was thought the confrontation with police would begin.

At the Government Center, police in riot gear were waiting. It would be a typical sight over the next two days.

By 8 a.m., a parade of about 1,000 or so protesters was moving east on 1st Street, then south onto 2nd Avenue, then, finally, east onto Flagler. A block from Biscayne Boulevard, a wall of police stretched across the intersection. Frank Fernandez, a deputy police chief, came out and said that as long as the march stayed peaceful, police would allow it. "The minute you break the law, we'll put a stop to it."

That was at 8:35 a.m. Less than a half-hour later, police inexplicably opened up the path to Biscayne Boulevard. Once marchers had funneled onto Biscayne, police re-formed the line, again blocking marchers who were now on a street much wider than Flagler. That's when I found Manny Diaz standing quietly below the huge palm trees along Biscayne. "If everyone stays in the spirit of cooperation, it'll be great," he said. Soon after that, he left. That's when the fun began.

At this point, things were quiet, considering. Some protesters faced off in front of the line of police, but there was enough space between the two rows for the hordes of media, themselves looking ridiculous in helmets and gas masks, to get the pictures that would wind up on wire services and in newspapers across the nation. Everywhere was the smell of vinegar, which demonstrators used to soak bandannas that would ward off tear gas.

Then an officer announced to anyone who could hear him -- about 20 of us -- that our march was unauthorized. He asked us to disperse. The line facing the cops strengthened, with protesters linking arms.

"More links! More links!" they shouted. From behind us, there was the sudden blast of a concussion grenade. Then a tear gas canister landed nearby. A protester picked it up and hurled it over the fence toward the Intercontinental. The police moved in. They marched forward, pushing the line back. Some gripped their batons in both hands, forcing the protesters back. Twenty-two-year-old Dave Phillips of North Carolina was among the first to go down, when he caught a baton to his forehead. He was dragged to the side by friends. Blood covered his hands. Medics from the convergence center brought him to a storefront, where they shone a penlight in his eyes. "My fingers are tingling," Phillips said. "Is that bad?" One medic took him to a medical center a few blocks away. By the end of the day, the center would treat more than 100 protesters injured by police in the demonstrations. A few required hospitalization.



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