This week, I’ve been exploring all the different types of ways police and the District Attorney’s office in New York have been monitoring, bullying, and harassing Occupiers. Of course, this civil liberties accosting is by no means isolated to the New York City area as we saw on Tuesday when dozens of police equipped with shotguns and assault rifles stormed a Miami, Florida apartment and drew their weapons on peaceful protesters and children with the local Occupy Wall Street campaign.
If a SWAT team drew down on unarmed occupiers, that would still be a horrifying, newsworthy story, but what makes the Miami event additionally alarming is that these were not squatters, but rather legal residents. (photo by Chris Mazorra)
That detail seems to have been glossed over in the media. The term “occupiers,” though obviously drawing from the name of the protest group, paints an inaccurate depiction of this specific group as having been illegally occupying the apartment building. That’s not the case.
Rodrigo Duque, the owner of the apartment building and Occupy protester, allowed some members of Occupy Miami to live there following the eviction of protesters from their camp on January 31.
During the raid, protesters claim police drew their weapons on children, forced a 57-year-old diabetic woman onto the ground, and allegedly harassed at least one individual, Ramy Mahmoud, during an informal interrogation.
“They are calling us terrorists, but what I saw today was demons pointing guns at us,” Ramy Mahmoud adds to the account. “They terrified us.”
Mahmoud claims he was asked questions such as, “Are you a Muslim?” and “Do you love this country?”
“I said hell no, I don’t love this country, and it’s because of shit like this,” Mahmoud tells the Miami New Times.
Police say they were responding to alleged reports that residents inside were stockpiling weapons to use in an upcoming demonstration.
“They said that they had gotten a tip that we had ‘long guns’ and were going to use them at our protest,” Occupy member Thomas Parisi tells the Miami New Times. “But we are a peaceful movement and told them that we had no intention of doing anything like that.”
Police placed protesters in handcuffs initially, but later released them at the scene and no arrests were made, keeping with the national theme of the arbitrary “grab and release” strategy implemented by law enforcement in dealing with Occupy.
Like the rest of the country, Florida police have undergone a rapid militarization. Rania Khalek profiled this transformation that tends to accelerate in anticipation of political conventions like the Republican National Convention, which takes place in Tampa this year.
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.
When looking at a photo of the Lenco BearCat armoured vehicle, it’s clear “aromored vehicle” is only a slightly friendlier euphemism for what this beastly monstrosity actually is: a tank.
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.
No evidence has emerged yet that the arrival of the RNC in the fall and the raids on Occupy are related, but it’s important to monitor this kind of harassment of protesters, particularly now that SWAT teams are drawing their weapons on legal residents.