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Posted on Sun, Dec. 14, 2003
New details emerging in trade protest clashes
What sparked violence between police and protesters during the Miami trade summit remains in dispute. Police are investigating, but answers might be months away.
Thursday afternoon.   The first day of free-trade talks in Miami.   Police and protesters are locked in a standoff on Biscayne Boulevard.

Tension has been building all day.   Two unpermitted marches held earlier ended in 32 arrests.   Downtown is shut down.   About 200 police stand three deep across the boulevard, sun glinting off their riot helmets.   Facing them: an estimated 600 protesters.

Up front, four young men begin drumming.   Ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM.   The sound intensifies, echoing off shuttered buildings.   Miami police, on a bullhorn, repeatedly announce that the demonstration can continue as long as it remains peaceful.

Minutes later, officers surge into the crowd, using rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas.

By the end of the next day, 231 people have been arrested in the protests against the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).   Widespread civil rights violations are alleged, along with injuries to dozens of protesters and a handful of police.

How it began late on Nov. 20 is in dispute.

Police say protesters pelted them with rocks for 10 minutes before they responded.   Protesters contend police marched on them for no reason.   Available video footage paints conflicting pictures, as do interviews with peacekeepers from Miami's Community Relations Board and other observers.

The FTAA protests in Miami were far less turbulent than the demonstrations during the 1999 Seattle trade talks, but leaders here still face an image problem: video seen worldwide of a Miami where rows of riot-clad police march down palm-tree-lined streets.

As in Seattle, investigations have begun.   Two citizens panels and two police agencies, from Miami and Miami-Dade County, are conducting reviews.


Answers might not come for months.   Despite public-records requests from The Herald, police have released little information.

But a review of available documents and interviews with police, reporters and protesters offer a rough picture of the events of Nov. 20 and 21:

 Most people arrested were of college age and from out of state.

The arrests were made in three main locations: two downtown, one by the county jail.

Costs, originally estimated at $16.5 million, have not been totaled.   Miami police say they have outspent their $2.3 million budget by at least $200,000.

Police used tear gas, despite assurances to the contrary.   While Miami police kept Chief John Timoney's word that his officers would not use tear gas, Miami Beach police did.

Items confiscated from protesters included gas masks, a bottle of urine, a nightstick, cans of bear repellent, bolt and wire cutters, sling shots and marbles.


The ultimate question will be whether police used appropriate force, according to Richard Odenthal, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department captain who teaches police riot-control classes.

``You look at police and news videos, after-action reports, you interview people and you figure out why the force was expended and whether it was appropriate for the threat.

``You're dealing with human beings.   How did they perceive the threat?   How many rocks do you take?   It's all judgment.''

Protesters say the police response was excessive.   Miami police say their judgment was sound.

''I believe our techniques worked 100 percent,'' Deputy Chief Frank Fernandez said.

''It's not as if we took one rock and unleashed a volley of munitions at them,'' he said.   ``We waited and waited and waited.''

Thursday — a sunny, gusty day — began early for police. Two unpermitted marches started at 7 a.m. Several hundred protesters massed at the Miami-Dade government center.

A similar-size group tried to join them from the north. After an hourlong impasse near the Miami police station, they turned back. No one was arrested.

Meanwhile, the government center group — about 1,000 strong — began marching to the fence surrounding the Hotel Inter-Continental, site of the FTAA meetings. Shortly after protesters reached Biscayne Boulevard, they began throwing rocks and firecrackers, police said. As officers slowly advanced, protesters retreated.

About 10:20 a.m., one protester ran at the eight-foot fence, threw a grappling hook and began to climb.

Police fired two concussion grenades, followed by rubber bullets and pepper spray.

Between 7 a.m. and noon, police arrested 32 protesters.

By afternoon, police radios were buzzing with rumors. Among them: A 55-gallon trash can was filled with feces to throw at police, and bottles of acid were being stockpiled, too.

The permitted AFL-CIO march in the early afternoon concluded. Then came the standoff — and the clash.

Community Relations Board members Miguel de la O and Jack Blumenfeld said they saw protesters lob smoke bombs, rocks and sticks at police before the officers began moving.

A video from Miami Beach police shows at least three objects thrown at police by protesters just before 4 p.m.

Many protesters, though, insist they saw no provocation.

''The drummers were drumming, the cops were standing there — and the next thing you know, they were pushing forward,'' said Lisa Fithian, a grass-roots organizer.

According to video footage and interviews, the officers took one step forward, then another, pressing into the crowd.   Shouting ''Move back!''  with each step, they thrust their batons forward in a two-handed grip, pushing anyone in their path, hitting the few who resisted.

Police shot rubber bullets and pepper-spray balls at protesters, who shouted, stumbled, ran away.

After a few steps, the police line stopped.   Protesters scrambled to reorganize, some setting up homemade barricades in the middle of the street.   Some knelt on the road, crying from injuries.

Minutes passed.   Police advanced again.   Pop, pop: The firing continued.   The protesters backed up, still throwing things.

The line advanced again.

For 90 minutes, police dominated, pushing protesters west and north, toward Overtown.

Protesters claim that police fired tear gas or pepper spray into a makeshift clinic on Miami Avenue near Northeast Fifth Street.

Gabe Pendas, a Florida State University physics major, was inside. He was unable to tell whether the irritant was deliberately shot into the clinic or filtered in.

''There was a crush to close the door,'' he said.   ``People were yelling and trying to get inside before the cops got there.''

Miami police are investigating the clinic allegations.

Protesters continued north and west, and police followed, arresting at least 22 people near the railroad tracks at Northeast Sixth Street and First Avenue.


Laura Winter, 37, a United Steelworkers secretary, still doesn't know why she was among them.   Police directed her down the railroad tracks, she said.

''Maybe naively, I thought that if the police were directing us, it meant it was OK to go that way,'' she said.

Once on the tracks, she was arrested.   The charge, failure to obey a law-enforcement officer, is still pending.

Miami police said county officers directed the group onto the tracks.   Miami-Dade police declined to comment, citing an uncompleted internal review.

When the confrontation ended, 53 people were in custody.

One more large group of arrests came the following day.   About 200 protesters had gathered near the county jail to show support for the marchers arrested the day before.   By 4 p.m., more than 100 police officers were there.   Miami-Dade police told protest leaders the group could stay until 5 p.m.

But, police say, just before 5 p.m. they heard reports that protesters had weapons and ordered protesters to leave.

Police arrested 83 people near the jail, saying they didn't move fast enough.

Injuries from Thursday and Friday included 16 people seeking treatment at Jackson Memorial Hospital.   Police reported five officers treated at hospitals and at least 10 who did not seek treatment.   The protester-run clinic reported 125 injured.

Carl Kesser, who was videotaping the protests for use in his stock-footage company, was injured when he was shot in the head with a beanbag as police cleared the street.

His camera captured the 44 seconds leading up to his injury, including his own blood spattering on the camera lens.   It does not show who fired at him.

''I did not see anybody throw anything — that's why I'm upset,'' Kesser said.   ``I'm running.   Everybody is retreating.   And then I'm hit in the head.''

Read the transcript with comments from the judge
Coverage of FTAA meeting


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FTAA Journal: Day One
Ali Tonak WireTap
November 19, 2003

Police after the labor march on 11/20.

Photo from www.ftaaimc.orgPolice after the labor march on 11/20. Photo from

When I venture into downtown Miami, what is clear as day is that global capitalism is on the run and in panic.

An approximately 10 block section of Miami has been transformed into a police state, which is shocking to activists who thought they had experienced heavy police repression before in previous mobilizations they have been involved in.

At least 20 people have been arrested in the last week leading up to the mobilization against the FTAA, while many more have been detained.

All of these arrests have charges such as loitering and obstructing the sidewalk, and most have happened while people were flyering in an attempt to outreach to the citizens of Miami.

Yesterday brought the most shocking overreaction from the Miami Police Department.

Two activists were downtown to attend a rally against big tobacco and were detained by police officers.

Following their detainment, their car was rigged with explosives and blown open, shattering all the windows in the car.

The reason was a suspicious object in the trunk thought to be a bomb, but of course nothing of that sort was found.
Activists link arms to prevent police from advancing on November 20, 2003 

Photo from width=Activists link arms to prevent police from advancing on 11/20. Photo from
Unfortunately the police do not realize that they are being completely duped.

The anarchist scare circulating within the ranks of the police and within the local population includes the claim that protestors have bought 15,000 cue balls to effectively combat the police.

Even crazier is the rumor that activists are going to inject syringes filled with shit into civilians.

The outrageous nature of these rumors are a testament to the hysteria that is sweeping through Miami right now.

The interaction with the local population has especially been a challenge for activists visiting Miami underneath the air of paranoia and fear.

But the challenge has been accepted and an outreach effort is being made with flyers explaining to those who live in Miami the ill effects of free trade and dispelling the stereotype of the "violent anarchist."
University of Maryland students on November 20, 2003.

Photo from www.ftaaimc.orgUniversity of Maryland students on 11/20. Photo from
TThis outreach effort has been coming out of what is being called "The Welcome Center," but what should more accurately be called "The Organizing Center."

The Welcome Center was set up with the efforts of many activists who arrived in Miami weeks earlier to coordinate the organizing efforts.

This center is also the hub for coordinating the direct actions planned against the meetings, and it is precisely for this reason that it has attracted an immense amount of press attention.

At any given time there are at least four news vans outside the center trying to figure out what the deal is with these mysterious anarchists that police have been warning them against.

Outreach isn't the only thing coming out of The Welcome Center.

The efforts include an outstandingly organized Food Not Bombs kitchen.

Food Not Bombs is an anarchist organization, with hundreds of chapters around the country.

They collect food that would normally be discarded (through donations and often by collecting them from dumpsters) and cook meals to be served free of charge at public locations.

Five Food Not Bombs chapters will be feeding thousands of people for the duration of the protests.
Tear gas in the streets on 11/20.

Photo from www.ftaaimc.orgTear gas in the streets on 11/20. Photo from
An integral part of The Welcome Center is the presence of the FTAA Independent Media Center (IMC), with which I am involved.

Within the IMC around a hundred media activists are working hard to counter the disinformation campaign being led by the city authorities and supported by the corporate media.

A video team is assembled to document every aspect of the events happening here in Miami, inside and outside of the FTAA meetings.

Amazing audio coverage is also coming out of the FTAA IMC.

To listen to streaming audio of two different radio broadcasts (The Free Radio Area of The Americas and FTAA Resistance Radio) go to And of course for complete coverage:

The planning for the direct actions within the relatively young counter-globalization movement in the United States has always been coordinated by spokes-council meetings.

The idea behind a spokescouncil is to provide a non-hierarchical forum for representatives of various affinity groups (people that partake in these actions are organized into affinity groups of five to ten friends in order to maximize safety and effectiveness) to dish out ideas and come up with an effective plan.

These spokescouncil meetings have been happening daily at The Welcome Center.
ftaaThe labor march on 11/20. Photo from
One of the problems that is becoming more and more evident within the counter-globalization movement is the emergence of some people as "movement leaders."

This is especially problematic since we claim to be a non-hierarchical and decentralized movement.

This concern shared by many activists here in Miami will surely become a topic of major discussion in the days to follow.

Another issue that has become apparent is the interaction between the "direct action movement" (mostly white, middle class and young people) and the unions in the United States.

This is a key issue since workers are those who are primarily affected by globalization.

This interaction is currently taking place through the accommodation of the "direct action people" to the permitted rally and march being held by the AFL-CIO.

The permitted march is scheduled for 12 PM while the major street actions will happen at 7 AM, six blocks away from the convening point for the permitted march.

More reflections on the power dynamics within the counter-globalization movement and our interaction with the working class tomorrow!

Ali Tonak graduated from Bard College after studying molecular biology. He is currently employed as a construction worker.

© WireTap is a project of AlterNet and the Independent Media Institute.

Posted on Sat, Dec. 20, 2003
Judge: I saw police commit felonies
A judge who said he witnessed some of the anti-free trade protests complains in open court about how police handled the demonstrations.
A judge presiding over the cases of free trade protesters said in court that he saw ''no less than 20 felonies committed by police officers'' during the November demonstrations, adding to a chorus of complaints about police conduct.

Judge Richard Margolius, 60, made the remarks in open court last week, saying he was taken aback by what he witnessed while attending the protests.

''Pretty disgraceful what I saw with my own eyes. And I have always supported the police during my entire career,'' he said, according to a court transcript.   ``This was a real eye-opener.   A disgrace for the community.''

In the transcript, he also said he may have to remove himself from any additional cases involving arrests made during the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit.

''I probably would have been arrested myself if it had not been for a police officer who recognized me,'' said the judge, who wears his hair in a graying ponytail.


Margolius, appointed to the bench in 1982, retired as a circuit judge in 2001 but said he still hears cases 15 to 20 weeks a year when courts are overburdened.

On Friday, he chose not to elaborate on the remarks he made from the bench Dec. 11.

''I can't comment on pending cases,'' he said.   ``It was inappropriate for me to make the comments I made.   A reasonable person could question my neutrality because of statements I made in open court.''

The judge did not single out a police department.   More than three dozen agencies were part of the FTAA security effort.   The Miami Police Department coordinated most police operations.

Angel Calzadilla, executive assistant to Miami Police Chief John Timoney, said: ``The chief's not going to comment on something this vague.   If the judge would like to file a complaint with the CIP [Citizens Investigative Panel] he can do that like any other citizen.''

Nelda Fonticiella, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Police Department, which had a large presence during the protests, also said the judge can file a complaint.   ''It would be our hope and expectation that if this is how he feels, that he would recuse himself from those cases,'' she said.

Margolius had been hearing the cases of Joseph Diamond and Danielle Kilroy, both arrested during the FTAA protests.   Diamond had been charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, a felony; the charges were dropped by the state at the Dec. 11 hearing.


Kilroy also faced felony charges — battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence.   Her charges were reduced to a single misdemeanor, resisting arrest without violence, according to members of the Miami Activist Defense, a legal group monitoring the court hearings.

During the Dec. 11 hearings, the judge asked an assistant state attorney, ``How many police officers have been charged by the State Attorney so far for what happened out there during the FTAA?''

None, the prosecutor replied.

''None?'' asked the judge.   ``Pretty sad commentary.   At least from what I saw.''

The judge also wondered aloud how much the ''whole episode'' had cost taxpayers.

''I know one thing.   There were police officers from every agency — I couldn't believe the sheer numbers,'' he said.

Laurel Ripple, a protester who was arrested and is working with MAD, said she was in the courtroom during Margolius' remarks.

''I'm really glad he saw for himself what was happening . . . I'm really glad he was out there,'' she said.  ``As a lifelong Miami resident and victim of the police during the FTAA, it was really supportive to hear that kind of affirmation from Judge Margolius.''

The FTAA summit, Nov. 20 and 21, sparked marches and protests in downtown Miami and resulted in 231 arrests.     Since then, at least 27 misdemeanors have been dropped, according to prosecutors' records last updated Dec. 2.    Additional cases have been dropped or the charges reduced, according to MAD members.

Two citizens' panels plan to hold a joint meeting Jan. 15 to hear comments and complaints about police conduct during the FTAA, and both Miami-Dade and Miami police are conducting internal reviews.   Amnesty International, the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers of America all have called for independent probes.

A Miami police spokeswoman said officers were instructed to make arrests only as necessary.


''We were told to deal with situations that were serious but we were always told to be very patient with people,'' said Herminia ''Amy'' Salas-Jacobson, a Miami police spokeswoman.

``In the training sessions we were told to be professional, be patient and to do everything right.   There was one thing that was stressed at every meeting: Always be professional.''

During Margolius' informal speech, he noted that he couldn't recognize officers because ``everybody had riot gear on.''

''I hope the state has the good, common sense to deal with these cases in an appropriate manner, with an eye on justice,'' he added.

Herald staff writer Charles Rabin contributed to this report.

Read the transcript with comments from the judge
Coverage of FTAA meeting




For archives, these articles are being stored on website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.