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London and Miami, Cops in Two Cities

The climax of the big demonstrations against President Bush on his recent London jaunt was the toppling of a papier mache statue of the commander in chief, a reprise on the carefully staged pulling down of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad earlier this year. If those London jokesters had tried this in Miami during the recent protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit, it’s a pretty safe bet they would have been gassed, tasered with electric stun guns, battered with rubber bullets, arrested and charged with felony counts costing them thousands until a judge threw the charges out.

Mainstream coverage of the protests has missed a very big story, which is Miami proved once again that these days lawful political protest is a very dangerous business. Top cop in Miami was none other than Miami police chief John Timoney. Back in the summer of 2000 this same Timoney was police chief in Philadelphia, trampling on rights to lawful assembly during the Republican National Convention. His storm troopers were found later by the courts to have have infiltrated protesters’ meetings and acted as agents provocateurs; to have acted with undue force; to have illegally detained peaceful protesters. The macabre climax of Timoney’s rampages was the arrest as he walked down the street of John Sellers of the Ruckus Society. Sellers famously became the first American ever accused of brandishing a cellphoner with intent to commit a crime. Bail for Sellers was initially set at $1 million before a judge threw the charges out.

Listen to Jeremy Scahill, producer-correspondent for Pacifica’s daily “Democracy Now” program.

“No one should call what Timoney runs in Miami a police force. It’s a paramilitary group. Thousands of soldiers, dressed in khaki uniforms with full black body armor and gas masks, marching in unison through the streets, banging batons against their shields, chanting, ‘back… back… back.’ There were armored personnel carriers and helicopters.

“The forces fired indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed protesters. Scores of people were hit with skin-piercing rubber bullets; thousands were gassed with an array of chemicals. On several occasions, police fired loud concussion grenades into the crowds. Police shocked people with electric tasers. Demonstrators were shot in the back as they retreated. One young guy’s apparent crime was holding his fingers in a peace sign in front of the troops. They shot him multiple times, including once in the stomach at point blank range.”

Scahill says there was no need for any demonstrator to hurl anything at the forces to spark police violence. “It was clear from the jump that Timoney’s men came prepared to crack heads. And they did that over and over. ”

Miami got $8.5 million in federal funds from the $87 billion Iraq spending bill. Miami Mayor Manny Diaz called the police actions last week “a model” for homeland security. As in Philadelphia, the model also included deployment of undercover police as provocateurs. At one point during a standoff with police, Scahill recalls, ” it appeared as though a group of protesters had gotten into a brawl amongst themselves.

But as others moved in to break up the melee, two of the guys pulled out electric tazers and shocked protesters, before being liberated back behind police lines. These guys, clearly undercover agents, were dressed like any other protester. One had a sticker on his backpack that read: ‘FTAA No Way.'”

Former California assemblyman Tom Hayden described later how:

“Protesters seemed to skirmish with heavily armored Miami police outside the Riande Hotel Thursday morning, but nothing is at it seems… These ‘anarchists’ were undercover police officers whose mission was to provoke a confrontation.

“The crowd predictably panicked, television cameras moved in, the police lines parted, and I watched through a nearby hotel window as two undercover officers disguised as ‘anarchists’, thinking they were invisible, hugged each other. They excitedly pulled tasers and other weapons out of their camouflage cargo pants, and slipped away in an unmarked police van.”

Undercover cops embedded themselves amid demonstrators and journalists embedded themselves with the cops. Scahill describes how he and his colleagues were suddenly confronted by Timoney and a crew of cops on bicycles:

“As Timoney was talking with his men, one of the guys on the bikes approached us with a notepad. ‘Can I have your names?’ he asked. I thought he was a police officer preparing a report. He had on a Miami police polo shirt, just like Timoney’s. He had a Miami police bike helmet, just like Timoney’s. He had a bike, just like Timoney’s. In fact there was only one small detail that separated him from Timoney–a small badge around his neck identifying him as a reporter with the Miami Herald. He was embedded with Chief Timoney.

“That reporter was one of dozens who were embedded with the Miami forces. We saw a Miami Herald photographer who had somehow gotten pushed onto the “protesters side” of a standoff with the police. The photographer grew angrier and angrier before he began hitting one of the young kids on the line. He punched him in the back of the head before other journalists grabbed him and calmed him down. His colleagues seemed shocked at the conduct. He was a big, big guy and was wearing a bulletproof vest and a police issued riot helmet, but I really think he was scared of the skinny, dreadlocked bandana clad protesters. He had this look of panic on his face, like he had been in a scuffle with the Viet Cong.”

If Timoney had been in charge of the London cops during Bush’s visit we’d probably now be looking at news film of funeral processions for demonstrators crushed to death in police-inspired stampedes. That’s the way the “Miami model” is headed.

 

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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