The mostly peaceful protests against the FTAA ministerial meeting in Miami were marred by scores of reports of police brutality. Over 200 people were arrested and jailed. We speak with a United Steelworkers of America spokesman and a 71-year old retired airline pilot who attended the protests, as well as Global Exchange’s Medea Benjamin. [Includes transcript]
The United Steelworkers of America is calling for the firing of Miami police John Timoney following last week’s protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the dropping of all charges against peaceful protesters. The mostly peaceful protests were marred by scores of reports of police brutality. Police shot rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters and beat demonstrators with batons.
Over 200 people were arrested and jailed. At least one protester remains hospitalized from injuries he said he sustained at the hands of the police The AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union are considering suing the city.
And the president of the steelworkers union, [Leo Gerard] called for a congressional investigation into why $8.5 million from the Iraq reconstruction bill was used to pay for security at the protests. He said the money went towards "homeland repression."
The Alliance for Retired Americans also held a rally Tuesday in Miami to protest how the police handled senior citizens who attended the FTAA demonstrations. One 71-year-old man, Bentley Killmon, told the Associated Press he was arrested while he was looking for his organization’s bus. But then he encountered police dressed in riot gear. They pushed him to the ground, arrested him, handcuffed him for 12 hours and denied him water or a chance to make a phone call. Killmon said, "The way I was treated, you would expect it in a third world country, not in this country."
The Miami police continue to defend their actions. A spokesman told the Associated Press: "The object of the show of force was twofold: one to let the peaceful demonstrators know they could protest safely and two to let the troublemakers know that we would not tolerate anarchy. It was successful."
AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about what the Steelworkers and Alliance for Retired Americans and others are come — calling for now, coming out of the police response to the FTAA protests, hearing from Marco Trbovich saying he believes that the police cracked down in the way they did to justify the $8.5 million that Miami police department got out of the $87 billion Iraq Reconstruction Bill to deal with these protests. Medea Benjamin is on the line with us, co-founder of the Global Exchange. You were at the FTAAA protests, what happened to you? Do these stories you’re hearing sound familiar?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Of course, they do, Amy, and I was on my way home one evening. We were in a van and got stopped by 12 police with guns put to our heads, forced out of the car, frisked, held, every piece of paper in the van gone through, and no markings on the police. They wouldn’t tell us their names. They wouldn’t tell us who they were with. They wouldn’t tell us who was in charge. As we kept complaining, and yelling, and they kept threatening us. Finally one of them took me over to show me the booty they had collected from other cars. And they said, "Look, the reason we have to search everybody is because we came up with this", — and this was two hockey sticks and a baseball bat and one slingshot. They spent about $600 per protester on repressive tactics. My sense is that the real aim was to equate protesters with terrorists, and to make the people of Miami feel that the use of helicopters, of tanks in the streets, of robocops in full riot gear is really an attempt to make people feel that this is an appropriate response to the exercise of people’s First Amendment rights, to make people get used to feeling this level of repression is, "in their own interests", and that’s why it’s so important that we fight against this.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Marco Trbovich, what calling for now, what are you demanding?
MARCO TRBOVICH: We are demanding an investigation by the Congress into the police department in Miami.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that’s realistic?
MARCO TRBOVICH: Well, what — I don’t know whether it’s realistic. It’s absolutely necessary. You cannot let things like this pass without challenging particularly when you your tax dollars are being used to repress you. So, there’s no question that this needs to be pursued. Whether or not it will be pursued will be up to Congress. I don’t know that. I do want to say, Amy, I think part of the reason for this are the reasons that Medea cited will, I think we’re winning. I think that those of us who are challenging these bankrupt trading policies which are hollowing out this economy and destroying good paying, and particularly union jobs, I think we’re winning because their back pedaling on these policies and I think there’s sort of an inversion relationship, correlation between the extent to which we’re winning and the extent to which there’s a certain desperate need to characterize us as somehow evil or terroristic. So, on the one hand it’s appalling and outraging. On the other hand, I’m somewhat encouraged that the FTAA framework that was announced is sheer mockery. It’s an empty shell. They cannot any longer hide the fact that these trade agreements and their enforcement through the International Monetary Fund are creating riots in South America. 10 million people in Brazil voted against the IMF’s policies. They cannot hide this under a bushel basket any longer.
AMY GOODMAN: Marco Trbovich, spokesman for the United Steelworkers of America, Bentley Killmon, retired airline pilot, who was arrested, and Medea Benjamin with us from Global Exchange.