MIAMI, FL–I remember when Occupy Miami had gained its respected reputation for having the most peaceful relationship with the police… Things are now a bit different.
As you can imagine, Spring has come and things have steadily been heating up here. There had been a few recent cases of police brutality and harassment on a more personal level that some our occupiers had been subject, not to mention March 13th’s infamous FBI and SWAT raid on our building, and let us not also forget that Miami has already had its own long history of corrupt police…
Despite the negativity and fear tactics thrown at us, a new revolutionary spirit had been growing within Occupy Miami as our movement has undergone internal changes; petty individual differences have been settled and forgotten with strong bonds and communication being established, enthusiastic and talented newcomers have been welcomed, new activists groups have emerged from our ranks creating a network of solidarity that has been long overdue, inspiration has come from all around and all bright minds are back in focus.
The past months have been really building towards May first and the following months.
Certain media aggressors such as the Miami New Times are entertaining the notion that May Day foretold an imminent death for Occupy Miami. However, those who were there will tell you that what we are now watching here is a rebirth of the movement in South Florida.
I have to be honest; we at Occupy Miami have a little history of half-assing our events in a way with lack of real promotion and many last-minute announcements which, of course, usually resulted in unsatisfactory turnouts. May Day and the events that preceded it had brought about new shows of effort and even a new radical side to our activists here altogether. I, myself, had to be convinced to stay until after May Day in order to help set things up, rather than leave to Oakland or Chicago, which is what I honestly wanted to do. So in the days leading toward May Day, there was a lot of excitement but also a desire to not get our hopes up for anything too exciting.
However, despite our skepticism, our general strike did not disappoint. Our numbers weren’t in the thousands like other major occupations you may have heard of, but this had been our largest turnout without union help since October 15. SEIU [Service Employees International Union] had set up a rally of their own at a hospital which had recently been privatized, and was now facing mass layoffs at the hands of Wachovia’s old CEO, Carlos Migoya, now Jackson Memorial Hospital’s own CEO. Their rally probably had much more numbers as well, but it seemed to be overshadowed in a way. Though our numbers were estimated at only around 150, they carried a growing intensity and unity that the unions’ permitted rally could not compete with.
Occupy Ft. Lauderdale and Occupy Palm Beach were making attendance, along with other local groups such as anti-capitalist group MAS [Miami Autonomy and Solidarity] and One Struggle South Florida. We were even joined by a new feminist women’s caucus, RYPE. Black Bloc elements, which Occupy Miami had lacked in earlier days, had also been emerging; a contingent of black and red flags, accompanied by a little variety of others, were leading the way as we departed from our rally at The Torch of Friendship, after a series of inspiring speeches and warm reunions. We were passing by the nearby port of Miami, and immediately the tone for radical action was set for the day. Without warning, black-clad protesters were joined by many others as they began to close off the port’s entrance with steel barricades that were so conveniently lining the surrounding sidewalks.
It was a valiant effort but, sadly, it seemed to have been predicted by police as blaring ambulances attempted to go down the very roads we had not even finished blocking. Though it seemed to be a strategic move to thwart our plans, bleeding hearts began to clear the way and were then pushed towards the sidewalk by police. We shook it off and continued to move, never neglecting to take the streets and not the sidewalk.
We stomped on toward downtown area in a very energetic and tight-knit coup, moving past a college and then an art school. Several students joined us and were welcomed by deafening cheers. We then marched through the inside of our county hall, Government Center, which was also graced with our campsites for three and a half months. This was our first time doing this and security could do nothing but hold the door open as we all went through and poured back out.
We walked in and out without trouble and continued to march through the surrounding streets, making a notable presence at all the nearby banks, eventually making our way to the financial district, Brickell. Spirits stayed cheerful and positive and were well lifted by cheers and chants of “WE ARE THE 99%!” from a passing school bus. We nearly set up camp at a very cozy Bank of America, but as police pressure started to build up, we gathered our ranks and began to march back toward the downtown area.
This is when things began to escalate and go down a different path. It seems police were growing weary of us taking the whole street. As we marched up the bridge back to downtown, they started ordering us to seclude ourselves to the right lane, but were defiantly ignored. An unmarked police car came aggressively into the picture and tried to push us into the prescribed lane. The driver blared his siren wildly which was lightheartedly answered by a bullhorn siren. The driver was not amused and began charging through the march, nearly running over a girl and her dog. The car was then approached by angry yelling protesters so it drove away and we continued on, still taking up multiple lanes.
Now things were getting heated but we hadn’t really expected the extent. We marched past a huge corporate Wells Fargo Center and were nearly fully past it when we were all urgently called back towards the building; one occupier, Rolando Prieto, was being arrested.
He later told me that as he’d straggled in the back of the march, he began to walk backward while police came behind us. He closed his eyes and began praying in the direction of the police as he walked. As another protester came up to hurry Rolando along, one officer ran up and gave Rolando what I was told to be an open palm punch to the chest. He was dropped to the floor and was then roughly arrested, which is when we were all called back by onlookers for help.
All cameras were on deck as we confronted officers about their actions. Protesters were being pushed and shoved onto the sidewalk for recording and asking questions. One occupier, Brian Tanghellini, had his back turned as he had one foot off the sidewalk. Police pounced on him and a game of tug-of-war ensued with Brian’s body. A few others and I attempted to give aid but then an enormous bike cop threw his bike at us and jumped in to the scuffle as it went to the floor. Another officer was standing on his car swinging his baton wildly at us. He struck one grounded protester in the mouth and then Brian, who was now on his back, grabbed the tip of the baton to put a rest to his onslaught. This is when the giant bike cop, which we have identified as Walter Byars III, began to throw his fists at young Brian, a 22 year old who could have been no heavier than 145 lbs.
Our livestreamer, Alfredo Quintana, (who’s even smaller) saw this happening and ran up to record. Officer Byars then turned his attention to Alfredo and delivered a heavy handed punch to Alfredo’s eye. This happened less than a yard in front of me. Due to Byars’ excessive force, he was pushed away but we’d simultaneously lost the battle for Brian as another female cop seemed to almost stand the heads of two guys who’d been holding on to Brian.
At this point, we were enraged. We were facing this line of very cocky police and were throwing every insult in the book at them. We looked in to their ranks and were surprised to see one officer bleeding heavily from in between his eyes. We figured he’d injured himself from diving at us but we were short on sympathy, due to their violent behavior.
As usual, they gave us no explanation as to why they’d begun arresting anybody in the first place. We remained to voice our disapproval for a long while as they drove off with our two comrades and then brought an ambulance for theirs. We were truly mad, but more united than ever.
After a long confrontation filled with harsh words, we finally proceeded to march back to our rally point at The Torch where moods were to be lightened with an anarchist puppet show put together by members of Occupy Ft. Lauderdale, titled “The Autonomous Playhouse.”
Unfortunately, our troubles were not over. Our bike police aggressors stalked us back to our rally point and watched us intently, waiting for us to vacate this area that was out of their jurisdiction. I was masked up and was about to unmask when I was approached by a couple others who warned me that officers were pointing and intending to target me for arrest. I didn’t doubt it because Officer Byars had been all over me since the beginning of the march and he was still giving me a lot of bad looks.
I wasn’t the only one, of course.
So some of my closer comrades and I began to clear out because it seemed that they were being targeted as well. We picked up the pace once an anonymous friend approached us; “You guys need to leave. Police are about to start making arrests,” he whispered.
That’s all we needed to hear, though it pained me not to be there if any of my fellows were to be in trouble. Still, it was for the best.
As we vacated the area, a helicopter began to patrol above and there seemed to be way too many police around. About an hour later, I’d been informed that our livestreamer Alfredo had been arrested as he tried to leave the rally. This was confirmation to us that our concerns about targeting had been valid and that we’d made a smart move by heading out early. This was the second time Alfredo had been arrested for what seemed to be his attendance at an Occupy event and we were itching to find out what the charges were this time, especially after seeing the video of his arrest, which only showed Alfredo with his hands up, asking why he was being followed and why they wanted to arrest him. Another officer was then explaining to a couple of our activists that what they’d done had been for our own safety–there’s very obvious issues with that logic.
The charges were apparently 3 counts of aggravated assault and one account of resisting with violence. The joke came about later that Alfredo had assaulted Byars’ fist with his face. Police apparently take that very personal, it seems… We were all pretty sure that Byars didn’t want the first-person view footage of his flying fist to be released. That night, we had a vigil outside of the detention center for our May Day 3. One correctional officer actually stated to us that “there’s no such thing as police brutality.”
All 3 were released within the next day and despite the mishaps it seems that everybody had been inspired and re-energized by the experience. We know, now more than ever, that Occupy Miami is not dead and we will now build upon the newly emerged foundation that we have. May 1st has triggered a new vibe and attitude, and perhaps a new day for these growing movements in South Florida. Spring is here and we are ready. Serious momentum has been gained and we are determined not to lose this momentum. Perhaps, if we utilize this momentum righteously, we’ll see a Miami Summer…
Editor’s Note: Check out all our May Day stories here.