The Miami (Super-)Model
If the seismic events of 2011 are any indication, the neoliberal model that the global South rejected during the 1990s has finally come to the fore in the global North.
I participated in the 2003 FTAA demonstrations in Miami. Working with Indymedia I contributed video (especially taken at the edge of riot police lines, or what the LAPD sportfully calls ‘skirmish lines’) to the collaborative production of The Miami Model, the documentary film that emerged. Last week Natasha Lennard interviewed me for this Salon piece called ‘Robocops vs. the Occupiers.’ It is promising to see a journalist investigating the connections between a ‘model‘ of militarized police tactics and media co-opting that was slated to endure for years following the FTAA.
Gharavi’s mention of ‘unembedded press’ illustrates one aspect of the Miami Model that is not being used against the occupation movement. At least five independent journalists were arrested covering the 2003 FTAA protests but there were also reporters on the other side of police lines – embedded with Miami Police Department, as war reporters often are with the military.
The LAPD created an elite ‘pool’ of media outlets that were not only embedded with police, but according to CBS News, instructed to not share their knowledge of police tactics with the public in exchange for access. Tweeting was also banned. As in Miami, ‘pool’ reporters were given protective gear (surely this has to be one of the most bizarre aspects of embed gigs, the sartorial prepping for a forceful action against civilians while you ‘tag-team’ with the police.)
From LA Weekly‘s Occupy LA blog:
Gregory said on air yesterday that pool elite will be outfitted in special protective clothing before the raid. They’ll be notified an hour before police dive in, and won’t be allowed to phone home with their juice until the eviction is over.
More bizarre still: Reporters in the pool will have to submit their entire ‘pool reports’ to the wire (City News Service) before any news outlet can post an exclusive. This is supposed to make the LAPD’s restrictive approach fair for all non-pool outlets – but ironically just gives the brave embedded bloggers and rubberneckers on the sidewalk the clear advantage.The whole thing smacks of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s obsession with having the Occupy experience turn out swimmingly in his harmonious kingdom – and of City Hall and the LAPD’s utter incomprehension of media in the 21st century.
Back to the FTAA, especially from a personal vantage point. What took me to Miami was the same impulse that brought so many to convergences actively resisting the IMF-ization of the world and visibly demonstrating alter-models to that destructive process. I participated in the anti-WEF convergence in 2002 in New York, and before Miami in 2003, I had worked with the Porto Alegre Indymedia at the World Social Forum in Brazil. The anti-FTAA convergence seemed like the kind of place that needed eyes and lenses, and as a film student it was unquestionable to me that I would join the Indymedia efforts there. I worked as a videographer using my own equipment, and we would leave our tapes to get logged and edited. It was laborious, round-the-clock work, and that was after coming indoors to the media warehouse after facing riot police lines and tear gas.
Calling them ‘trade agreements’ made them seem so innocuous. The kind of militarized response to a convergence proved what kind of violence is behind these models of extraordinarily concentrated capital. Our tagline to the film was ‘the documentary with an $8.5 million security budget.’ I remember we were raided twice by the police in conjunction with the FBI. And I’m talking about a media space where reporting and a documentary were being produced being turned into a crime scene.
It was a tense national period. George W. Bush was president and he’d invaded and incapacitated two countries in two years. His brother Jeb was Florida state governor. Locally the police chief Timoney was notorious for quite literally smashing protest. He openly boasted about it to television networks.
The legacy of the ‘Miami model’ is that even the most obvious forms of dissent—marches, gatherings, signs, puppets—rang a national security alarm for police and city officials. They banned the assembly of more than seven people. This county was basically telling the United States, ‘The constitution doesn’t count. We say you can’t be together in groups of more than seven.’
It was not my first experience of ‘unprovoked’ police pepper spray, as I have written about here and elsewhere. I was attacked with pepper spray by police at the WEF and it landed me in the hospital (I eventually developed hypothermia and had to be separately treated for that). But it was the first time I saw someone get Tasered. An undercover police officer Tasered someone in the crowd not far from me. The young man was immediately immobilized and writhing in pain on the concrete. The police indiscriminately fired rubber-coated steel bullets and ‘bean bag’ rounds. In some of our footage you can see officers essentially emptying rounds onto people.
It was also my first time getting kettled. As I told Lennard, downtown Miami is built on a grid structure, so in terms of city planning it’s almost a gift to law enforcement. They kettled protesters, unembedded press, everyone together into giant squares and would push into them and beat people severely with batons. During all this there were helicopters overhead nonstop, and at one point we saw military tanks. I was carrying a press card with me and filmed from the riot police line at one point, but they were so heavily suited and helmeted I couldn’t see any of their eyes.
What struck me about the reaction—what struck everyone at the time who was watching closely—was the level of coordinated, escalated, militarized, and overpowering police reaction. Their presence was visually stunning and enough to create a desert out of downtown Miami. It was deserted in expectation of this huge ‘clash’ when in reality, the numbers of police to protesters was ghastly. You can see it in the footage too: a mass of black Kevlar against defenseless bodies.
The similarities with Occupy mobilizations strike me as the following: ready and casual use of chemical weapons (most recently the officer who deployed pepper spray point-blank in students’ faces at Davis), rubber-coated steel bullets, and other battleground weaponry. The pre-emptive nature of several cities ‘suiting up’ their police squads before an Occupy encampment or action has even happened is also in tune with the Miami model. The widespread use of undercover agents. The unprovoked raids on collectives—as I mentioned there were FBI raids on media spaces in Miami.
But there are differences, too: there is a longer history of post-9/11 militarism and domestic surveillance. Most importantly, the marginalized anti-capitalist activism of the past decade, going as far back as Seattle, has now become far more difficult to marginalize. The recession was a catalyst for that, but people have been left with fewer and fewer options but to create and expand those alter-models for themselves. And as more people get involved, more people are watching. The demonization—I’m talking about total news spin (see how that works in this on-air police apologia by a local LA anchor as a photographer is beaten)—of activists is still prevalent but getting harder to do. (In Miami we’d face tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets from riot police in the street, then watch the television coverage spin that into a narrative of police saving besieged downtown from the mayhem of angry, violent mobs.)
The coordinated nature of Occupy crackdowns has been insufficiently investigated. We are still learning more and more about how DHS is involved with these nationwide blitzes, but by and large very few journalists and editors are challenging the dominant narrative. Disarming the police is not even discussed. The ‘clash’ narrative—as though militarized police forces and unarmed civilians can be equalized—is still prevalent in headline coverage. Police acquittals after major onslaughts (such as paid or administrative leave for Captain Bologna in NY) are largely unchallenged by the press.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that the Bahrain government has hired John Timoney, former Miami Police Chief (2003-2010). Timoney will ‘head a team of law enforcement advisers from the U.S. and Britain,’ adding another global layer to the twisted saga of coordinated executive police and Homeland Security action in the wake of Occupy.
A commenter also reminded me of former Colonial Police Officer Ian Henderson, known as the ‘butcher of Bahrain’ in the Gulf states (but only after sweeping up the title ‘torturer-in-chief’ in Kenya). As head of the security services and director of intelligence Henderson ‘gathered around him the kind of British dogs of war, mercenaries, whose guns and electric shock equipment are for hire to anyone who will pay the price.’