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PRESS ROOM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                           November 24, 2003
Union condemns use of federal Iraq reconstruction funds to subsidize "homeland repression" at FTAA meetings

PITTSBURGH — The United Steelworkers of America (USWA) is calling for a Congressional investigation into "a massive police state," created in part with federal funds, to intimidate union members and others critical of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and limit their rights during FTAA meetings in Miami last week.

"Last week, the fundamental rights of thousands of Americans … were blatantly violated, sometimes violently, by the Miami police, who systematically repressed our Constitutional right to free assembly with massive force, riot gear and armaments," said Leo W. Gerard, USWA international president, in a letter to Congressional leaders.

"It is condemnable enough that a massive police state was created to prevent American citizens from directly petitioning FTAA negotiators for redress of their grievances," Gerard said in the letter.

"It is doubly condemnable," he added, "that $9 million of federal funds designated for the reconstruction of Iraq were used toward this despicable purpose. How can we hope to build democracy in Iraq while using massive force to dismantle it here at home?"

Citing "countless instances of humiliating repression in which the Miami police force disgraced itself," Gerard said that Miami police chief John Timoney should be fired, all charges against peaceful demonstrators should be dropped, and a Congressional investigation into the Miami police department's systematic repression should immediately be launched.

"To do less would be to endorse homeland repression in the guise of homeland security," Gerard’s letter concluded.



See below for full text of letter



To: Honorable Bill Frist, Honorable Tom Daschle, Honorable J. Dennis Hastert, Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Honorable Tom DeLay.

Greetings:

Last week, the fundamental rights of thousands of Americans — including our Union's active members and retirees, members of other AFL-CIO unions, our allies in the Citizens Trade Campaign and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, as well as members of United Students Against Sweatshops — who had gathered in Miami to peacefully protest the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) were blatantly violated, sometimes violently, by the Miami police, who systematically repressed our Constitutional right to free assembly with massive force, riot gear and armaments, including combat
vehicles.

It is condemnable enough that a massive police state was created to prevent American citizens from directly petitioning FTAA negotiators for redress of their grievances, for there can be no doubt that using massive armed force to deny us the right to publicly and peacefully confront them put the full powers of the state in the service of the multinational corporations and financiers who singularly benefit from the expansion of so-called 'free trade.'

It is doubly condemnable that $9 million of federal funds designated for the reconstruction of Iraq were used toward this despicable purpose. How can we hope to build democracy in Iraq while using massive force to dismantle it here at home?
The obvious purpose of the repressive police presence in Miami was, at a minimum, to intimidate us and limit the exercise of our rights. Phalanxes of police in riot gear stretched for blocks, as did police cars buttressed bumper to bumper. These heavily armed forces gratuitously instigated tensions by forcing demonstrators to pass through narrow gauntlets merely to enter sites for which the AFL-CIO had secured permits for rallies and parades. Indeed, a manned, armored personnel carrier sat poised within a few yards from the entrance to the venue.

The specter of thousands of union members, many of whom have served the nation with great honor in combat, being forced to walk such a gauntlet, as if they were a common enemy rather than law abiding citizens united in common cause, was truly appalling.

Unfortunately, the exercise of unwarranted force was even worse, in many instances, than the affront created by its threat.

•When the wife of a retired Steelworker from Grantsville, Utah, verbally protested what she considered the abusive treatment of a student activist at the entrance of the AFL-CIO rally on Friday, November 21, she was slammed to the ground
face down by police and a gun was aimed point blank at the back of her head. A Steelworker who witnessed the violent repression reported that she was so terrified that her entire body was literally vibrating.

•In a case of blatant entrapment, a secretary in our International Headquarters in Pittsburgh, and a local Steelworker activist from Wisconsin who had worked all day as a parade marshal and was wearing a bright orange marshal's vest
emblazoned with the words 'AFL-CIO Peace Keeper,' were returning to their hotel, when they were directed by armed police to abandon the sidewalk and to proceed down a set of trolley tracks. Once on the tracks, they were immediately pounced upon by armed riot police, handcuffed and arrested. They were forced to remain in cuffs for hours on end, even when visiting the washroom.

•The Co-Director of Citizens' Trade Campaign was forced to the ground and had a gun put to the back of her head while peacefully attempting to enter the AFL-CIO rally at the Bayfront Amphitheater. Furthermore, the headquarters of Citizens'
Trade and Global Trade Watch were surrounded and under constant surveillance by armed riot police.

These were just some among countless instances of humiliating repression in which the Miami police force disgraced itself.

Based on these disgraceful circumstances, we believe several actions should immediately be taken.

First, Miami Police Chief John Timoney should be fired.

Second, all charges against peaceful demonstrators should be dropped.

Finally, since federal funds helped finance the violation of our members' constitutional right of free assembly, a Congressional investigation into the Miami Police Department's systematic repression should immediately be launched.

To do less would be to endorse homeland repression in the guise of homeland
security.

Respectfully,

Leo W. Gerard

International President



Click here to download the full text of the Letter in Adobe Reader format







USA: Allegations of excessive use of force and ill-treatment of protestors in Miami

Amnesty International called today for a full and independent inquiry into allegations of excessive use of force by police during demonstrations in Miami on 20th November. The organization has also received dozens of reports of ill-treatment of those detained during the demonstration.

Police are reported to have fired rubber bullets and used batons, pepper spray, tear gas canisters and concussion grenades on crowds demonstrating against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations, leaving some people hospitalized and dozens more treated for injuries. Scores of people, including journalists and observers, were arrested during the demonstration, some reportedly subjected to ill-treatment in detention. Amnesty International is currently gathering more information on the reported violations.

"The level of force used by police does not appear to have been at all justified." Amnesty International said, noting reports that only a small minority of demonstrators had engaged in acts of violence.

Miami Police Chief John Timoney today issued a letter to the media stating that his department would be undertaking a comprehensive review of the FTAA security operation and would produce a public report.

"Any investigation into the violence in Miami must be fully independent and must also look into allegations of ill-treatment following arrest. If the force used is shown to have been excessive, then those involved should be disciplined, measures put in place and training given to ensure future policing operations in Miami conform to international standards.", Amnesty International stressed.

Amnesty International is investigating reports that some of those arrested during the demonstrations have been subjected to ill-treatment while in detention. One woman is reported to have been strip-searched by four male officers and left naked. Other reports suggest that detainees have been beaten and sprayed with pepper gas and high-powered water hoses inside Dade County Jail.

"If these allegations are true, Amnesty International would call on anyone found responsible to be brought to account in accordance with international standards" Most of those arrested are reported to have since been released, but Amnesty International is seeking information as to the legal status of any still held.

An event organized by the Miami chapter of Amnesty International during the demonstration was also hindered by police who surrounded the area and refused people access.

Background

Thousands of people took part in the demonstrations organized during the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations in Miami on 20 and 21 November. Around 250 people were detained, most released on misdemeanour charges including "disobeying" police orders to disperse, unlawful assembly and resisting arrest.

Amnesty International is advocating for regulations requiring all weapons that launch kinetic impact devices (objects which hit people) to be treated for practical purposes as firearms, and therefore to be used only by trained firearms officers and then strictly in accordance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers, which state, inter alia, that "Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury".


Public Document
****************************************
For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566
Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW. web: http://www.amnesty.org

For latest human rights news view http://news.amnesty.org



Related Documents

(AMR 51/143/2003) Australia/USA: Guantánamo -- Human rights are not negotiable
(AMR 51/141/2003) USA: Guantánamo detainees - Human rights are not negotiable
(AMR 51/139/2003) USA: Deporting for torture?
(AMR 51/137/2003) USA (Oklahoma): Death penalty / Legal concern - Hung Thanh Le (m), Vietnamese national,
(AMR 51/135/2003) USA: Degrading treatment for women at Valley State Prison
(AMR 51/133/2003) USA (Georgia): Death penalty / Legal concern, James Willie Brown




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