When Police Stick to Phony Script
They call it the Miami Model.
But it could be called the Genoa model, the Pittsburgh model and, after this weekend, the Toronto model.
It refers to police tactics used in Miami seven years ago, during the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit, and, more importantly, the protests erupting on the streets outside.
Manny Diaz, Miami’s then-mayor, called the police methods exemplary — a model to be followed by homeland security when confronting protesters.
Human rights groups including Amnesty International called it a model of police brutality and intimidation.
Protesters were beaten with tear gas, sticks, rubber bullets . . . You can watch police stun cowering protesters with Tasers on YouTube. Last year, the city agreed it had trampled citizens’ right to free speech by forcing marchers back from planned protests and settled out of court with Amnesty International.
What is the Miami Model?
I called Naomi Archer to find out. She is an indigenous rights worker from North Carolina who happened to be giving a lecture on the Miami Model yesterday at the U.S. Social Forum — the G20 for community activists.
Archer, who was in Miami as a liaison between protesters and police, has a 40-box checklist to identify the Model. Here are the main themes.
• Information warfare. This starts weeks before the event. Protesters are criminalized and dehumanized, and described as dangerous “anarchists” and “terrorists” the city needs to defend against.
“Often, a faux cache is found,” says Archer. “They are usually ordinary objects, like bike inner tubes, camping equipment, but the police make them out to look threatening. It lays the groundwork for police to be violent and it means there’s a reduced accountability of law enforcement.”
• Intimidation. Police start random searches of perceived protesters before any large rallies. They are asked where they are staying, why they are walking around. Police raid organizer’s homes or meeting places, “usually just before the summit, so there’s maximum chaos organizers have to deal with,” says Archer.
“All this is meant to dissuade participants. The best way to make sure you don’t have a critical mass of people taking over the streets like in Seattle is to reduce the numbers at the outset.”
This is usually made possible by last-minute city regulations, curtailing the right to protest. In Miami, the city commission passed a temporary ordinance forbidding groups of more than seven to congregate for more than 30 minutes without a permit.
• “They threw rocks.” That’s the line police use after tear-gassing or beating protesters most times, Archer says. Urine and human feces are variations on the theme. But it’s always the protesters who triggered the violence. A popular police tactic is called “kettling.” Officers on bike or horses herd protesters into an enclosed space, so they can’t leave without trying to break through the police line. Take the bait; you provoke a beating or arrest. And of course, there are the famous agent provocateurs, outted publicly two years ago in Montebello. Police officers dressed up like militant protesters to protect the peaceful crowd, they say; Archer says it’s to instigate trouble.
In Montebello, one of the three cops dressed in black was holding a rock.
“It’s the same lies every single protest,” she says. “It’s justification by law enforcement for their violent actions. This is a propaganda war.”
• Job well done. At the end, regardless of the bodies clogging the temporary holding cells and hospitals, the police always congratulate themselves. And by the time the cases go to court, the story is long forgotten and the circus has moved to a new unsuspecting town.
More than 270 people were arrested in Miami during the summit seven years ago . How many were convicted, in the end? I called the American Civil Liberties Union to find out.
“None,” said lawyer Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, who was the president of the Miami chapter back then.
So far in Toronto, the police show has unrolled according to script; we’ve seen the propaganda, the cache, the intimidation, the secretive new regulations, the scary military arsenal. . . .
Next up, rocks. Will we all believe that one too?
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