Nov. 21, 2005 – In trio of lawsuits filed last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida charged that police working in three Miami-area jurisdictions illegally arrested bystanders and protesters during a free-trade convention held there in December 2003. In so doing, plaintiffs argue, police used unlawful force, seriously injuring an unknown number of people.
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The suits were filed on the second anniversary of the protests, which saw thousands of demonstrators confront a militarized police force as leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere met to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The unrest resulted in the arrest of about 300 people and wounding of countless others.
Collectively dubbed the "Miami model," tactics employed by the Miami, Dade and Broward county police have been universally denounced by anti-globalization activists, free speech advocates and civil libertarians. Among the actions taken by Miami-area police during the FTAA arrests were "preemptive" arrests, clandestine surveillance activities â€“ including "embedded reporters" and undercover police infiltrating among protesters â€“ and the mobilization of a massive, heavily-armed force that utilized pepper spray, stun guns and batons, allegedly to antagonize protesters.
In a statement announcing the lawsuits last Thursday, Florida ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon said the "Miami Model" clearly violates free-speech and due-process rights and gives police officers license to effectively ignore part of their sworn duty.
"Despite the pride that Mayor Manny Diaz and Police Chief John Timoney have taken in the â€˜Miami model,â€™ trampling on the constitutional rights of demonstrators in order to make downtown peaceful during the FTAA meetings was not a successful police operation," Simon said. "Police officers failed to fulfill law enforcementâ€™s two equally important duties â€“ ensuring the safety of the community and at the same time protecting everyoneâ€™s constitutional rights."
Unfortunately, Simon noted, "taxpayers in several South Florida communities will now be required to compensate people from around the country for the violation of their constitutional rights."
The lawsuits were filed on behalf of four labor union activists, a former New York Times reporter and a college student whose skull baton-wielding police allegedly fractured. Most of the about 300 people arrested during the protests were subsequently released without charges, though many spent more than 24 hours in jail, the ACLU noted.
Since the 2003 FTAA protests, police departments around the country have adopted portions of the Miami model, as The NewStandard reported last year.