MIAMI -- At the tail end of a 20-foot green dragon, Julie Gouldener began Miami's largest anti-globalization march Thursday skipping up Biscayne Boulevard. Two hours later, she stood against a wall sobbing, the welt from a rubber bullet's impact rising on her forehead.
"I was standing in the street, just standing in the street … tell them what happened,'' she told a reporter before medics shepherded her away.
Like so many of the peaceful protesters who converged on Miami, Gouldener's environmental message was lost in a cloud of tear gas and a barrage of rubber bullets as police clashed with more violent activists.
Though the day was mostly one of peaceful protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, it was defined by a handful of violent clashes between police and demonstrators. Small fires burned. Dumpsters were set aflame. Barricades were assaulted. Pepper spray spewed.
By nightfall, 74 people had been arrested. Nine people were hospitalized, three of them police officers.
From the moment the sun rose, tensions were high.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at Miami-Dade's Government Center for a tense but peaceful rally as almost as many police officers watched in stern formation. Separated from the police line by a few feet, a protester who gave his name as Strider held aloft an American flag and reminded the police of his rights.
Miami riot police fire on protesters during a Free Trade Area of the Americas protest Thursday, Nov. 20, 2003, in downtown Miami.
"Remember about the Constitution. It's what gives you a job and what keeps us safe," Strider taunted.
The police stared straight ahead.
Then the rallying protesters, several hundred strong, broke out tall puppets - lambasting corporate greed, Miami Police Chief John Timoney and President Bush. They began to chant.
"Lets make our voices heard. Let's exercise our rights in the face of strong police intimidation," AFL-CIO organizer Lisa Hoyos shouted through a bullhorn from atop a newspaper box.
The skirmishes began when hundreds of protesters, many wearing bandanas, surgical masks or gas masks over their faces, marched from the Government Center to an 8-foot barricade separating them from the Hotel Inter-Continental, where ministers from the hemisphere's 34 democratic nations were hammering out a blueprint for the world's largest free trade zone.
Opponents fear a hemispheric trade agreement lifting barriers and easing tariffs will put corporate profits before people, costing jobs, threatening the environment and exploiting the poor.
Police in riot gear, with shields and heavy wooden truncheons, quickly formed walls around them, forcing them back with pepper spray, batons and Tazer guns, which shoot an electrified charge.
"What does a police state look like?" a young man shouted into a bullhorn
The crowd responded: "This is what a police state looks like."
Then, a cadre of demonstrators tossed a makeshift rope and anchor over the top of the metal barricade, slightly bending it over. Concussion grenades sounded. Rubber bullet shots rang out. Pepper spray prompted screams of pain, then fear. Tear gas spread quickly in the brisk morning wind, sending people scrambling to cover their mouths with vinegar-soaked rags to neutralize the acrid, choking smoke.
Protesters were dragged by the legs, thrashing, behind the police line, some beaten by the long, wooden batons. Then, banging their shields with their batons, police began to march, pushing the protesters away in a slow advance.
Josh Xander of Cincinnati stood his ground and pounded back on an African drum. "I'm not worried about the cops," he said, "I'm worried about what President Bush is doing to our country."
Later the police would smack him in the stomach and wrist with a baton, and shock him with a Taser. "It's heartbreaking," he said.
A young man who gave his name as "Will Power" turned his back on the advancing police line for a second to help a friend. He emerged with a two-inch gash on his head thanks to a baton strike, staining his blond dreadlocks with blood.
"This is what happens when we stand up for democracy," Power said. "We got our asses kicked.''
By noon, the protesters had dispersed, and busloads of trade unionists arrived. The scene became part carnival, part street theater, with people forming dancing circles, waving flags, beating drums and strumming guitars.
Gouldener, 31, of Miami Beach, a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations, donned her dragon costume and joined a peaceful march, consisting mainly of trade unionists, environmentalists and farm workers through two miles of downtown Miami. The estimated crowd: 10,000. Noticeably absent were the police.
No sooner did the march end, and unionists began departing in buses, protesters once again assaulted the police line. A surge that started with about 150 quickly swelled to more than a thousand.
"Shut it down, shut it down!" the demonstrators shouted, referring to the trade meeting.
Within 10 minutes, smoke bombs, tear gas, rocks and bottles were flying from both sides. Police advanced steadily, forcing the protesters, many suffering angry welts from rubber bullets, or eyes streaming from pepper spray, down the city's side streets.
Police Chief Timoney, in shorts and on his bike, was in the front lines.
"I got a lot of tear gas," he said. "We all got gassed. They were loaded to the hilt. A lot of missiles, bottles, rocks, tear gas from the radicals."
Civil-liberties advocates said the only violence came from police intimidation.
"The fact that the violence the police predicted never materialized indicates that the police presence was uncalled for," said John de Leon, cooperating attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. "Beyond that, there was a wholesale violation of people's constitutional rights.''
By dusk, the protesters' attack had turned into a rout, with police sealing off blocks and trapping them. Outside the nearby police station, a cheer went up as squad cars sped by. The arrests went on through the night.
"If we don't lock 'em up tonight, we'll lock 'em up tomorrow, so let's lock 'em up," Timoney said.
At the end of the day, news trickled to the Convergence Center, where protestors gathered to make puppets and posters and plot their strategy, that trade ministers had unexpectedly wrapped up their meeting a day early, calling it a success.
Bill Tayler of Fort Lauderdale, stood outside, his arms-crossed, his T-shirt decorated with profanity-laced insults against the president.
"The protests are still working," Tayler said. "The power is still with the people. That's what matters in the long run."
Mark K. Matthews of the Sentinel staff and Robert Nolin of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel contributed to this report.
© 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services