Global Policy Forum

Infamous ‘Miami Model’ of Protest Clampdown,


By Christopher Getzan

New Standard
June 8, 2004

When thousands of demonstrators converged in Miami last November to protest the latest round of negotiations over a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), city authorities dreaded a repeat of the failed police response that allowed activists to hobble the 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial in Seattle.

Before the activists arrived in Miami last year, police warned that violent anarchists were set to rampage through the downtown area, intent on damaging property and stopping negotiations for the hemispheric trade zone pact that some activists call "NAFTA on steroids."

Instead of anarchists, however, protest participants said another group got out of hand. "It was a police riot," said Free Speech TV journalist Andy Dieringer.

Many journalists and activists have come to refer to the police-orchestrated chaos and the ruthlessly efficient clampdown that accompanied it as the "Miami Model."

While the origins of that term are uncertain, the Miami Model's effectiveness -- at least as judged by police and city hall -- may make it the brand name cities reach for when faced with the prospect of thousands of activists marching on their cities in opposition to policies favored by the political and financial elite.

"The claim to its success is that there was no property damage," said Randall Marshall, Legal Director for the Florida ACLU. "Of course that says nothing about the suppression of free speech in Miami."

Both anti-corporate globalization activists and an independent review panel that examined police conduct in Miami say crowd control techniques included large scale pre-emptive arrests, deployment of heavily armed, sometimes unidentifiable law enforcement officers who infringed protester rights, and the collection of intelligence by police and others on activists engaged in lawful protest.

OrgLast October, Georgia lawmakers proudly announced they had secured $25 million from the Iraq appropriations bill for G8 Summit security. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has declared a state of emergency along the Georgia coast in effect from May 31 to June 20, and over 20,000 police will be stationed in Brunswick, a coastal town near Sea Island, with a population of only 15,000 residents.

The city of Brunswick has also passed a protest permit ordinance in anticipation of G8 protests that is so restrictive the American Civil Liberties is challenging its constitutionality in court. Activists currently in Georgia for the G8 demonstrations this week have already reported a high level of police harassment.

"I see that the screws are being tightened," said Bill Dobbs, a spokesperson for United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of over 700 local and national groups involved in grassroots activism.

In Boston, city and police officials are talking about throwing a 40-mile ring around the event, Dobbs said, closing "streets, freeways, that sort of thing" off from traffic entirely.

"Down in New York, nobody's got any permits yet," Dobbs says, referring to the New York City PD's refusal so far to approve any of the approximately 20 demonstration permits activists have applied for. Dobbs said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is "either flirting with chaos, or he's inviting chaos" by failing to accommodate peaceful protesters.

"I don't know what the goal is," Dobbs said. "I know the impact now is to chill dissent."

Carol Sobel, a co-chair of the National Lawyer's Guild (NLG) Mass Defense Committee, a network of lawyers, legal workers and law students that provides legal support for progressive protest movements, says the Miami Model is based on three basic precepts.

Pre-emptive Arrests

The first is a policy of pre-emptive arrests, including detainment of "neutral parties" such as legal observers. Sobel's group filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Miami for its police response to FTAA protests.

Andrea Costello, a co-counsel for the NLG Mass Defense Committee who helped coordinate groups of legal observers during the protest, said the Miami PD also used "plainclothes extraction teams."

"We had [unmarked] police in full body armor, wearing ski masks, with no identifying tags, jumping out of vans" and dragging protesters off, she says.

After one particularly large round-up of protesters, a number of people flocked to the city jail for a solidarity protest, said Costello. "These folks were told they could remain in that area," she said. "Then [the police] turned around and told them they had to disperse. As people actually started to comply with the dispersal order, which we don't even think was valid in the first place, the police surrounded them and started pepper spraying them."

This particular incident received criticism in the initial draft of a report on Miami Police performance during the FTAA meetings by the Miami-Dade Independent Review Panel (IRP), a volunteer committee that investigated citizen complaints over police conduct during the FTAA conference. According to the IRP, "Video tapes document individuals being arrested even though they began to disperse prior to the 2 minute deadline announced by megaphone."

According to Ed Griffiths, a Miami State Attorney's Office spokesperson, there have been 57 convictions in the 219 arrests made by police during the FTAA protests. Griffith said that while there is contact between law enforcement and the justice system for a large number of arrests, the Miami State Attorney's Office was not attempting to prosecute on the basis of a defendant's politics.

"We don't characterize, we prosecute," Griffiths said. Nevertheless, the IPR found that "most arrest charges did not stand up to scrutiny."

Massive, Costly "Security" Presence

The second feature of the Miami Model, according to Sobel, is an across-the-board, heavily armed, law-enforcement presence. The IRP "strenuously condemned and deplored" police for "unrestrained and disproportionate use of force" and said, "civil rights were trampled." And they extended "heartfelt apologies" to those activists the panel said had come "to [Miami] to peaceably voice their concerns, but who were met with closed fists instead of open arms."

Marshall says between 30 and 40 different law enforcement bureaus, including the Coast Guard, the Immigration and Nationalization Service, and Florida Fish and Wildlife, blanketed Miami under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Review Panel said the law enforcement costs for the FTAA are expected to exceed $24 million, "an amount much higher than the reported $8,500,000 in Federal funds available for reimbursement." Curiously, the IPR report notes the federal monies were supposed to have been committed to the "war on terrorism."

"Americans think they're paying for a war in Iraq, but they're paying for a war at home on free speech," said the NLG's Sobel.

Gathering "Intelligence"

The fruit of this distinctly military-flavored cocktail, Sobel said, is to keep tabs on rabble-rousers. "The point of it is to do a lot of intelligence gathering... They're operating from the theory that the protesters provide a cloak for terrorists." This intelligence gathering, said Sobel, is the third ingredient of the Miami Model.

"We do know a couple of people who've gotten visits from the FBI or law enforcement," Costello says, "who specifically said their participation in the FTAA was what brought [the FBI] out there."

Through a Miami Police Department spokesperson, Chief John Timoney declined to comment for this article. Queries made to Miami Mayor Manny Diaz' office for an explanation of the tactics used during the FTAA meetings and the reasoning behind them were not returned.

The IPR report said that "while the vast majority" of the Miami PD "conducted themselves in a professional manner," poor organization, miscommunication, and "an emphasis on preparation for violent protesters" plagued the police handling of demonstrations and "chilled citizen participation in permitted and lawful demonstrations and events."

Future Protests

Chief Timoney's word carries weight in protest-management circles, according to Sobel. She said Timoney's effectiveness at suppressing protests outside the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia four years ago, when he ran that city's department, established his reputation as a protest-buster. Sobel said Timoney has visited with police in Boston to talk about preparations for the Democratic National Convention.

Lieutenant Kevin Foley, director of media relations for the Boston Police, said Timoney is only one source his department has used for tactical advice about protest management.

Foley, as well as his counterpart in New York, Police Inspector Michael Cohen, are silent on any "models" their respective police departments may employ when protesters come calling on the Democratic and Republican parties this summer.

According to the Department of Homeland Security press office, both events have been categorized as National Security Special Events, and Secret Service is organizing the security around each.

"Every security plan is going to be unique, to be tailored to that particular event," said Ann Roman, a spokesperson for the US Secret Service. "We're confident in our other partners."

Roman does say "public viewing areas," often referred to as "free speech zones," will be established. Such spaces are often located blocks or even miles away from the subjects that demonstrators are trying to protest.

Despite the reassurances from law enforcement, would-be protesters and their legal representatives who will turn out in force at this summer's events predict police tactics in tune with the Miami Model, with concern over terrorism cited as the primary rationalization for overwhelming presence, brute force and devious infiltration.

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