Arresting The Future

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By Tom Hayden, AlterNet
Editor’s Note: Tom Hayden is reporting for AlterNet from the Free Trade Area of  the Americas conference in Miami.
MIAMI, Friday 8:21pm EST – The police force continued operating with the brains  and appetite of a carnivorous shark today as city officials kept demonstrating “the Miami model” of suppression even as protestors and trade  ministers were leaving the city in droves.
At a Friday afternoon press conference, Thea Lee, the chief international economist of the AFL-CIO, spoke of feeling terrified Thursday as police fired  pepper gas and plastic bullets at peaceful marchers.
Other labor leaders,  including AFL-CIO president John Sweeney expressed “outrage” over the police  blocking of a permitted gathering, and cited specific abuses such as a union  retiree being denied necessary medication after an arbitrary arrest.
Global Exchange co-founder Medea Benjamin and others were pulled over Thursday  night by a dozen officers who pointed guns at them. The Sierra Club’s  Washington D.C. advocate, Dan Seligman, also described officers holding a  weapon to his head and that of another colleague.
Mark Rand, coordinator of a  group of foundation funders, displayed a large bluish bruise on his back leg  from a rubber bullet.
When 100 protestors ventured to the Dade County jail today to speak out against  yesterday’s arrests and detentions of some 145 people, a third on felonies, the  same cycle of avoidable suppression they were describing unfolded yet again.
David Solnit, one of the founders of the Seattle movement, attributed the harsh  police measures to Miami’s character as a center of “vulgar capitalism.” Unlike  other cities, where authorities may appear to assimilate dissent for political  reasons, he said, Miami has attempted to sweep it away as a foreign curse. AFL- CIO leader Ron Judd speculated that the police suppression deflected public  attention from working-class trade issues, while Medea Benjamin accused  authorities of “trying to get the people of this city and county used to this militaristic model” instead of the relatively benign model of policing used at Cancun only two months ago.
I came to Miami with eight students from Harvard University, where I have been  teaching a study group on social movements this semester. They carried with  them questionnaires to sample the opinions of this new generation of  protestors, and received a first-hand education in police suppression today.  After the press conference outside the county jail, about 200 young people  marched 100 yards, stopping in a parking lot across a street from several  hundred heavily equippedpolice officers.
Negotiations between a police commander and activist lawyers produced peaceful  coexistence for an hour late in the afternoon.  There were high spirits, even  humor, among the protestors who invented chants like “There ain’t no riot here,  take off that stupid gear” and songs like “We all live in a failed democracy.”
The protest could easily have been contained by a handful of officers, or might  have simply faded as the day ended. Instead, at  pproximately 5pm, the  commanding officer summoned the activist lawyers to announce that those  milling, waiting or sitting in the parking lot had become an “unlawful  assembly” with three minutes to disperse. In addition, he said with a straight  face, there was “intelligence” that some in the crowd had rocks. There was no  evidence shared with regard to this secret intelligence and no rocks were seen  in the events that followed.
Instead of resisting, the crowd began dispersing along 14th Street, the only  egress route available. With the Harvard students, I was among the last to  leave, along with camerawoman Ana Nogueria and reporter Jeremy Scahill from  Democracy Now! Crossing a driveway I met David Solnit again, who had decided  not to take it any more.
Solnit and six others sat down suddenly on the sidewalk, holding their hands up  in V-signs. A phalanx of 25 police closed in on them as we took photographs and  notes from a few feet away. In moments the seven on the sidewalk were  handcuffed and led away. More police were swarming everywhere now, overwhelming  the remaining protestors by 10-to-one.
One block away, the dispersing crowd was walking backwards as more police marched on them with helmet visors down and guns and clubs drawn. By now five  of my students had joined this retreating witness, all holding their hands over  their heads and chanting “We are dispersing”
again and again. How could the police not notice how young they were, how utterly unthreatening,  how innocent?
I moved alongside the advancing and retreating lines to take a photograph when  I noticed that a policeman was aiming a shotgun straight at my chest. Fear  leaped in me, then he pointed the weapon down. But a moment later he was  looking down the barrel at me again. I was
holding a camera, notebook and pen.  Suddenly I found myself asking him, “Are you really pointing that f—ing gun  at me?”
Nothing happened, and I turned back to look for the students. They were on the  public sidewalk, but by now more police had arrived to prevent them from  walking any further.
The last I saw of them – Anne Beckett, Maddy Elfenbein, Jordan Bar Am, Rachel  Bloomekatz and Toussaint Losier, all undergraduates – their hands were still up  as they were swallowed up by the black-and-brown uniformed horde. When they  were on the ground, one officer added a final squirt of pepper spray. How brave  they look, I added to myself.
Two of my other students avoided arrest by happening to turn in another direction and, minutes later, Touissant, a tall African American with dreds and  a video camera, magically walked free because the police were too busy with  their already downed dissidents.
Police subsequently informed the larger world that a mob of menacing protestors  had disobeyed orders to dissolve an unlawful assembly and were treated  accordingly. In truth they may have radicalized the next generation of America’s future  leaders.