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Uprising

Wednesday, Feb 1, 2012, 9:10 am

Officials Order Eviction of Occupy Miami Citing ‘Unsafe Conditions’

By Allison Kilkenny

As America watched the hardly surprising Florida presidential primary results roll in that led to Mitt Romney's double-digit victory over Newt Gingrich, lines of riot gear-clad police were moving in to destroy Occupy Miami.

Unlike at Occupy DC, which recently enjoyed a victory over its own eviction deadline, the protesters in Miami were forced away from their camp as police banged batons and ripped down tents. One demonstrator was struck with a baton and several others said there were assaulted. At least three people were arrested. (The Miami Herald has a slideshow of the eviction).

Photographer Carlos Miller, 43, was charged with resisting arrest without violence and was being held on $1,000 bond. Occupy member Juan Sanchez, 23, was charged with inciting a riot; his bond is set at $5,000 according to online corrections records. A third person arrested was not immediately located in inmate records.

In a Jan. 5 memo to Mayor Carlos Gimenez from County Commissioner Joe Martinez, the commissioner urged the mayor to declare activists trespassers. As a result, the group's last permit request was denied, leading to the eviction.

Kelley Roark, an attorney who has been involved with Occupy Miami since the fall, says "this is nowhere near ending."

"It's going to continue, we're going to find ways to have it to continue. If we find another encampment and we're able to maneuver that in the near future, we'll do that." Roark said that the camp highlighted Miami's issues with homelessness: "We created an encampment of activists, but we attracted an encamp of homeless people that had nowhere else to go. What they discovered here was acceptance."

Florida is a state that deals with rampant homelessness. According to a 2011 report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness (PDF), Florida was one of the top states with the highest risk of increased homelessness in the future, and is a state that is already constantly in the top three of homeless rates in surveys (California and Nevada also have extremely high rates).

The eviction in Miami is part of Florida officials' new tradition of keeping the state under total police lockdown. Rania Khalek highlighted Floridian policy in her article detailing the transformation of places like North Carolina and Florida into mini-police states in anticipation of political conventions.

The Tampa City Council recently voted on using some of the $50 million in federal grants secured by the city for the 2012 Republican National Convention for a "series of police upgrades" that will include an armoured SWAT truck and a high-tech communication system.

The city council agreed to spend nearly $237,000 on a Lenco BearCat armored vehicle, which will be used in conjunction with two aging armored vehicles the city acquired through the military surplus program. Tampa Assistant Police Chief Marc Hamlin told the Tampa Bay Times that the trucks are strictly for the purpose of protecting officers from potential gunfire, not for day-to-day patrolling and crowd control.

Lenco BearCat armored vehicle (photo by Eric Poole, tactical-life.com)

Although the vote was unanimous, City Council Vice Chairwoman Mary Mulhern expressed alarm about the purchase. Mulhern told AlterNet, “I didn't even know that our police force had a tank and Hamlin made a convincing argument that it’s been used to save a life. I would’ve voted no if we didn’t already have one -- it’s chilling that the police have a tank.” She fears these types of purchases could “militarize” Tampa’s police force.

And this is hardly a case of Tampa and Miami acting autonomously and respectively for the needs of their own cities. Come RNC time, Florida district personnel and armory will ebb and flow depending on the needs of the region in question.

Tampa’s fleet of armored vehicles will be joined by a dozen others borrowed from neighboring departments.

City officials plan to deploy anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 officers to establish a “security corridor” around the RNC. Since the Tampa police and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office have only 2,100 officers combined, up to two-thirds of the federal grant will pay, feed and house thousands of officers from surrounding jurisdictions.

Of course, Floridians have no say in how they would like their police to be used during convention time, even though their tax dollars pay the salaries of the officers and also for the impressive weaponry they'll be carrying around. Instead of fighting dangerous criminals, police will be preoccupied with locking down cities during the RNC to prevent dissent and tearing down any remaining Occupy camps.

It's also strange that the cover given for raiding Occupy camps, "unsafe conditions," is a charge only levelled at individuals gathered in protest, and not say, at Tampa officers rolling around in a tank.

Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.

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