Miami protesters decry police violence

MILWAUKEE – Most of the 30 or so people filling the Green Dragon Freedom Café here Nov. 26 had been participants in the protests surrounding the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Miami.

Seated at one table was John Heckenlively, a local labor reporter who frequently covers the same events as the World’s Milwaukee correspondents. Heckenlively was arrested while attempting to cover the summit and spent most of three days in police custody, more than half of that in solitary confinement. More precisely, he said, he was arrested while trying to get away from the “scene of mass panic created by rampaging Miami police.” The charging papers in his case claim he became violent, which he called “a fairy tale.”

Heckenlively had a clearly displayed press pass when he was arrested, he said. Reporters were ordered away from the protest or asked to declare themselves on the side of police. He said some of his fellow arrestees were bystanders who had never even heard of the FTAA.

“If there was one legitimate arrest in that whole situation, it would really surprise me,” said Heckenlively. He displayed a rubber bullet he kept as a souvenir, a black cylinder about two inches wide and across. He said that a local unionist who was arrested alongside him, Gerry Gunderson, had been struck at least six times by such bullets.

Seated next to Heckenlively in the café was Erik Sperling, a high school activist who also demonstrated in Miami. Earlier that day, Sperling had met with a group of local attorneys, including the legal director of the Wisconsin American Civil Liberties Union, to relate his experience.

Sperling described seeing his friend Maria in Miami: “Her face was covered with blood and her friend was taking her to the hospital. She’d been hit on the top of the head with a billy club. Another guy was about three feet away from me when I heard a noise and looked over and blood was running down his face from a rubber bullet. This was 200 feet from the front.” Heckenlively and Sperling both described people screaming and running and attending to visible wounds.

No accounts of local activists’ participation in the protests appeared in the local press, but at the Green Dragon, photocopies of the Miami Herald were passed about which bore the headline, “Police credit planning for lack of chaos.”

“There was nothing but chaos,” said Heckenlively.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org