I’ve written before about the ugly “Miami Model” of suppressing protesters, free speech and civil rights in general all in the name of making the city safe for the FTAA negotiators. (See Notes From FTAA Fontlines (Nov. 20, 2003); Miami’s FTAA Aftermath: Happy Officials, Allegations of “Police State” Tactics (Dec. 04, 2003); More on Miami FTAA Protests (Dec. 23, 2003).)
Well, it seems it was even uglier than we suspected. The post-FTAA investigation of the police’s tactics didn’t just whitewash police who fired on innocent civilians, but actually praised them. In a training video. While laughing. Cut to yesterday’s Herald, Attorney incensed after viewing FTAA police video:
As a middle-aged Coral Gables attorney, dressed sharply in a red suit jacket, skirt and black slingback heels, Elizabeth Ritter stood out among the throng of protesters on Nov. 20, 2003.
Frustrated that she couldn’t do business because the Miami-Dade County Courthouse was shut down that week during the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit, she hastily made a sign that read ”Fear Totalitarianism” and decided to stand with the protesters.
The sign, however, became her shield against a barrage of rubber bullets fired at her by a legion of Broward Sheriff’s deputies in riot gear. And, in an image captured by a videographer, she is shot in the head as she cowers in the street.
And now another video, recently released, raises questions about the degree to which police, specifically, Broward Sheriff’s deputies, were encouraged, — and even praised — for using force against Ritter and other protesters.
The tape, recorded for training purposes, shows Major John Brooks — then a captain — addressing dozens of deputies in an outdoor BSO tent.
”How about yesterday, huh?” Brooks says, complimenting the officers for their work during the protests. “I would go to war with everyone here.”
Brooks continues, “I went home, I couldn’t sleep, I was just so pumped up about how good you guys were . . . Nobody broke ranks. You’re the best I’ve ever been with.”
Sgt. Michael Kallman, a BSO counterterrorism unit officer, addresses the group next. A voice off-camera says, “What about the lady behind the sign? We have intel on her?”
The officers laugh.
Kallman smiles and says, “The good news about being able to watch you guys live on TV is that the lady with the red dress, I don’t know who got her, but it went right through the sign and hit her smack dab in the middle of the head!”
He raises his forefinger and zooms it toward his forehead.
The cops all laugh.
Another officer asks, off-camera, “Did I get a piece of her red dress?”
No disciplinary action has been taken against any officers in the video, said BSO spokesman Elliott Cohen.
Having been rumbled in public, the chief cop caught red-handed…or red-mouthed…is of course suddenly contrite. But that’s a bit late — having put the verbal equivalent of a smoking gun on video, they’re going to be sued.
Here’s why, again from the Herald:
it wasn’t trade issues that brought Ritter and her friends to downtown that day. The attorney thought it was overkill that the police had all but shut down the city.
”My city, my hometown, was becoming a police state,” she said.
A videographer captured what happened next, showing Ritter walking alone in front of a line of BSO deputies on NE Third Street.
As the deputies advance, Ritter turns around to face them and raises her sign.
A barrage of projectiles is fired. She kneels, holding her sign above her head as a shield.
Ritter is shot five times — in her legs, upper body, and shoulder. And when she kneels on the ground, the sign above her head, a projectile rips through it and strikes her in the head.
Hard rubber projectiles typically leave welts and bruises, but at close range can pierce the skin, or rarely, kill.
‘I turned around and said, `Why did you hit me?’ Is a woman in a business suit a threat?” Ritter recalled in a recent interview.
‘But then I thought, `That must have been a mistake.’ A police officer isn’t going to shoot me on purpose.”
Ritter walked around downtown in a daze, finally getting a ride home. Although her head and body were bruised and she was upset, she decided not to make an issue of what happened.
Then, last month the BSO videotape emerged as a result of a public records request from the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel.
Its existence was first reported by the Daily Business Review.