Labor: Make police accountable for FTAA violence

$8 million from homeland security funds spent to quell 2003 protest

MIAMI (PAI) — Saying three years is too long to wait, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Florida union leaders are demanding the state’s GOP Attorney General Charlie Crist move against Miami’s police chief and other officers responsible for the violence during the demonstrations against the Free Trade Area of the Americas in November 2003.

In a Sept. 29 letter from Sweeney to Crist — the GOP gubernatorial nominee this fall — and in an Oct. 12 press conference, the union leaders cited independent reports that showed the police were responsible for 300 injuries and 250 arrests during peaceful protests.

Video of the protests showed police beating unarmed demonstrators, shooting — and almost killing — a photographer with rubber bullets, and indiscriminately firing tear gas at students, workers and senior citizens.

“Three years later, no one’s been held accountable, and chief [John] Timoney was the prime mover of this,” South Florida AFL-CIO President Fred Frost said in a telephone interview after the press conference, held in front of police headquarters.

The South Florida federation delayed its demand to Crist while two independent panels probing the police action against the protesters tried, but failed, to get key documents about training and funding. The $8 million spent to train law enforcement personnel against the FTAA protesters came from federal funds earmarked for homeland security.

Immediately afterwards, Sweeney sought probes by the U.S. Justice Department and Gov. Jeb Bush (R), the president’s brother. He never got any response.

“Rights of free speech, peaceful assembly and association, to deliver our message of failed trade policies in a safe environment, were systematically thwarted by public authorities,” Sweeney wrote Crist. “I am asking you ... to mount a criminal investigation and bring criminal charges as warranted” against the chief and others.

“As attorney general, he [Crist] says he’s focused on our safety and security every day,” Frost told PAI. “I got really mad, because he’s done nothing. The first shot in the war on the middle class was in Miami on Nov. 20, 2003.”