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Occupy Miami | Occupied Stories

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May Day Miami – Heating Things Up

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…

-Chris Mazorra-

Editor’s Note: Check out all our May Day stories here.

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A Review of May Day in South Florida

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Food Not Bombs.

MIAMI, FL–Welcome to another withering criticism of a large-scale Occupy Miami event! Just kidding…actually for the first time in a long time it felt like Miami and Fort Lauderdale had as much going on as an area with a population of over 5 million deserves.

May Day in Miami started with a march starting down Biscayne Blvd. We took the streets and stayed in them. A sort-of black bloc then sort-of shut down the Port of Miami. That was short-lived as an ambulance immediately needed access and some people were pissed that someone tried to block the road in the first place. For these kind of tactics it is a learning experience around here. No one does this sort of thing here, period. So I felt somewhat refreshed just to see it tried, honestly.

So then we marched up and down Biscayne and Brickell, snarling traffic and jeering at bank buildings. Eventually an arrest finally occurred (which I happened to witness) where an activist that was slowing down the police pushing us by baby-stepping in front of the car got busted. Shortly thereafter a scuffle broke out in which another protestor was beaten and arrested and the cops also knocked one of their own on his face, which drew blood. There was also reports of a squad car that came dangerously close to running over protestors.

Afterwards there was a puppet show by our collective, the Autonomous Playhouse, and speakers.

AND THEN, another activist was arrested – Alfredo – who was dramatically arrested after the end of the event and is being charged with two counts of assault on a police officer. Which, in my objective opinion, is BULLSHIT!

There were some downsides. The liberals completely and intentionally abandoned the Occupy march in favor of having another show-protest in front of Jackson Community Hospital, and Occupy Palm Beach, which apparently has sworn off direct action, was nowhere to be seen. What was seen, though, was a vibrant level of engagement, especially by anarchists, in the South Florida area that is a new and encouraging phenomenon.

Great work from all involved (especially Miami Autonomy & Solidarity)…let’s do this again sometime.

-Nathan Patches Pim-

Editors note: check out all our May Day coverage here.

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Occupy Miami Labeled Terrorists by the FBI?

MIAMI, FL – A call out had been made by Occupy Atlanta, Occupy Glen Iris, and Take Back The Block to Occupy Chase Bank and, more specifically, shut them down. Occupy Miami had been at a dormant, yet turbulent, state for a period of time. Not many serious actions have been done as of late. So a mutual feeling among many current occupiers was to turn things around. This was to be one of many serious actions we’d participate in from now on, but turns out there were other forces at work here.

We had finished getting everybody in the building together and were then leaving to the rally which would take place at our old encampment spot in Government Center. We had not even passed the parking spaces in front of the building when we were suddenly stormed by a contingent of law enforcement, which ranged from militant SWAT looking officers in dark camouflage and heavy body armor with military assault rifles and tactical shotguns to standard City of Miami police officers with pistols to what looked more like agents of some kind.

Vans, trucks, cars, and even an armored Hummer were surrounding us and we all had this variety of guns aimed at us, being ordered to get on the ground. It was a very disorienting and frightening situation as I, nor most of Occupiers and other locals present, had ever had any firearm drawn on them, nevertheless firearms of military grade.

Now, the criticism could and has been made that we should not have been compliant, that we should have resisted and refused to get down; literally “stand” for our rights. Comparisons were even made to those in Bahrain and Egypt and Syria, which I felt were a bit unfair. Normally, I’d agree and suggest non-compliance and resistance of some kind. I feel like I am ready to face danger for my beliefs, but consider this; we were in front of a residential apartment building with children inside and a couple of them were actually sitting outside in the lot watching this happen. We were all very overwhelmed and did not want to test these brutes with such big weapons at the moment.

They were very aggressive and vulgar. A couple of Occupiers were practically trampled as these heavily armed officers and agents charged into the building. Requests not to be stepped on were met with “Shut the f*** up!” Our questions regarding their reasons for all this were met with “Shut the f*** up!” Guess what our requests for a warrant for the searches they began were met with… All their yells of “Shut the f*** up!” were supplemented with a rifle to the back of our heads. As enraging as it was, we all decided not to press those issues.

Everybody in front of the building who was heading to the rally was lying flat on the floor with our faces to the ground and were being searched by MPD while the agents and heavily armed officers dispersed around the building and rounded up everyone inside and searched all unlocked rooms. I tried to grab my phone to record but as I reached down I was yelled at and had guns pointed at me so I withdrew my hands. These automatic weapons were aimed at all occupiers and tenants in the building as they were rounded up against the gates. The two children outside also had these guns pointed at them as they commanded their mother to take them inside.

Our media room was locked since we were about to mobilize so the key was requested with a drawn M16. Our guy with the key knew we had nothing to hide so he gave them a tour of the whole media office.

All the Occupiers lying on the ground in front, including me, were sent to sit with the others by the gates as they aggressively rounded up and searched everyone else in the building. I managed to grab my phone and began recording under my leg to avoid any negative reactions. I took a few pictures as well. Another Occupier and I were becoming increasingly vocal and less worried. We chanted and were told nothing.

After all that, I said to hell with it and I began to record again, but this time it was done openly and I even narrated. Others had been recording as well. As I was recording, three Occupiers were being brought down one by one in zip tie handcuffs. I was allowed to continue recording until I began asking why they were in cuffs. They then came and made me put the phone away. I did not resist as I did not want to lose what I had.

Strangely enough, these three were soon let go without any charges. They finished searching everything and began leaving. The crowd erupted in applause and there were even chants of “Cops go home! Cops go home!” As we began getting up to go on with our day, the agent in charge came and told us not to go into our apartments, that he felt they owed us an explanation.

We agreed and gathered to hear him out. He began to explain this had nothing to do with the MPD and that they supported our protests as it is our First Amendment right but they had been gathering information and suspected that a small splinter group with our movement was planning to incite violence with weapons. One Occupier asked him what kind of weapons they were talking about. The agent then said, “Long guns. We’re not talking sticks or rocks or anything like that.”

We were all shocked and confused and questioned this reasoning. After this, they left but mysteriously detained 3 other Occupiers for questioning at the station though they did not cuff them.

We all decided that this should not stop anything and we commenced with our rally and march. We marched over to Government Center and began to rally right where our camp once stood. Security and county officials tried to make us get off the grass and even claimed that they had spent $14,000 on that grass, but we did not comply as they could make no real case against us here. They even went and asked a few nearby bike-mounted police officers to help remove us; the officers did nothing.

Once we felt good and ready, we began to march to a Chase Bank in the Downtown Miami area. As we arrived, we received the usual warm welcome of doors being locked. We caused a ruckus and blocked up a few doors. Police made it difficult but we were persistent and stayed for over an hour.

In this time, I received a phone call from one of our Occupiers who had been detained and was told that they had been let out. They then met us in front of Chase and began telling me everything; It was disturbing to say the least. The Occupier who called my phone is an Egyptian. He was asked if he was Muslim, which is obviously racial profiling. They also discovered that what we thought were detectives back at our safe-house were actually FBI and the storm-troopers with military weapons were an “Intelligence and Terrorism Unit.” There was other info disclosed which we cannot release for safety reasons.

So now a lot has been left unclear. Who were these people really? What were their true reasons for raiding us with such force? Why did they refuse to show us a warrant? Is this the NDAA in action? I guess that remains to be seen. They warned the detained Occupiers that they’d be back. Our Egyptian brother then warned them that the whole world would find out about this and that this would be viral through the internet.

The agent-in-charge responded, “Please don’t…”

We feel that they wish for us to be afraid and stop. We will not comply with that. Tomorrow (M15) is Bank of America Move-In Day and we will attend, once again, beginning with a rally at our old home in Gov Center. We will also be celebrating 6 months of the Occupy Movement on Saturday (M17), which will begin with a rally at Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Law enforcement knows where to find us, but we are not worried. Every time they make one of these over-the-top moves, it counts against them; they should have learned by now.

We are the 99 percent and we shall overcome.

-Chris Mazorra-


This is what a police state looks like

Video of the militarized raid of Occupy Miami

Part 1

Part 2

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Political Repression on the Streets of Miami?

As many Cuban-Americans living in Miami, my family’s nightly dinner-table conversations were thoroughly (and, course, regularly) dominated by discussions about the economic, social, and political conditions in Cuba. My family’s impressions rendered the sacred tempered by the profane; Cuba was our “lady in waiting,” who had been defiled by a totalitarian regime. But this is neither surprising nor paradoxical.

My family came to this country not necessarily to avoid communism, but to escape the state repression of an authoritarian government. While our Miami streets are not infiltrated by the same type of omnipresent masses of boogeymen (who seemingly lurk at every corner, at every hour, threatening to arbitrarily report every action as possibly “subversive”), the crackdown on Occupy Miami protestors which I witnessed last night could only be described as an outrageous application of the unmitigated might of state authority.

It was an intensely authoritarian might that seems more fitting in my family’s region of Camaguey, along with every other town and city of Cuba. Just as in Cuba, where the exercise of this sort of might certainly doesn’t spring from “enlightened” concern about the well-being of the community, this might was unleashed onto protestors to squash political dissent aimed at criticizing our government’s callous and flagrant rejection of economic democracy.

Peaceful young activists gathered last night at Government Center to take a peaceful stand, in the militantly non-violent tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, against the city’s planned destruction of the Occupy encampment (otherwise known as “Peace City”). In the dark of night, numerous contingents of riot police, in full combat gear and armed to the teeth with various types of menacing weaponry that seemed more fit for a combat zone, created a human barricade around activists and media, effectively trapping us onto the street directly behind the Government Center.

As they did this, another group of riot police formed a wall around the media and pushed them off the camp entirely, so that the media could not properly document the police escalation which was planned to take place. This occurred despite numerous attempts by Occupy Miami liaisons who, before the action, spoke to the commander-in-charge and implored him numerous times that respect for media and civilians should be a paramount priority — this, to no avail.

Not very long after sunset, riot police closed in and physically pushed us onto sidewalks until we were fully engulfed; block by block, away from the encampment, police beating their metal batons on their shields, chanting “Back! Back! Back!” The images of police repression elicited flashbacks of the awful stories about Cuba that I had heard during my childhood.

I was reminded of the trials and tribulations that traumatized my people. We, the children of Miami, were threatened with bodily harm and treated as outright criminals — merely for disagreeing with our government. The dreams of freedom that my family sung to me, as lullabies, had become a discordant nightmare of oppression that would cause any freedom-loving person to recoil in disillusionment, if not disgust.

In the Occupy movement, I have had the amazing honor to stand shoulder to shoulder with young Cubans who embody much of the future of this city. We carry with us the hopes and dreams of our parents and grandparents, and we fight, as they did… for liberty. Our families came to this country, as many do, to seek solace in what we are told is a free nation. But the scenes of last night beg a few very important questions:

Where was that freedom last night in Miami, as dozens of peaceful activists were viciously chased by riot police in full combat gear? Where was that freedom in the midst of an imminent threat of tear gas, the blows to our bodies by batons, the threat to use pepper spray to douse our spirits in unsolicited submission, and the threat to use rubber bullets to shatter our dreams of a better society?

The corporate media described the situation as being inherently violent, but, as so many intelligent, strong-willed, young activists pleaded with the riot police over and over as they surrounded us in a terrifying display of repression, we are reminded of an old saying: “The only weapon we have is our voice!”

I do not want to live in a nation in which our voices are the most feared weapons of all. A silent nation is a nation on the verge of death. To ensure that the dreams of our forefathers can truly become a living reality, we must embrace freedom and denounce repression, wherever it takes place. Failing to do so means we will have embraced the very tyranny our ancestors labored so diligently to escape and overcome.

Mo Tarafa
Political educator, Seed305

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