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Editorial: Criminalizing Dissent
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Miami and the Criminalization
In an attempt to prevent Miami from becoming as volatile as Seattle was during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting, Miami's city commission is considering a new ordinance that would ban glass containers, gas masks and poles to hold up signs during demonstrations, protests and parades.
What¹s most revealing about this decision is that Miami is considering this ordinance just in time for trade ministers to arrive in town for Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) discussions and that the new law would only last until Thanksgiving.
Miami's police chief is pushing hard for this ordinance to pass. John Timoney was police commissioner for the city of Philadelphia until the beginning of 2003. During his time in Philly, Timoney's police force faced numerous accusations of police brutality and corruption. Despite this, Miami decided he'd be the perfect guy to lead their city's law enforcement.
So, it comes as no surprise that Timoney appears to be at the center of this push to deny citizens their rights. First of all, he wants the protesters confined to one area, Bayfront Park. But, the ordinance also bans such things as "supersoakers," balloons filled with liquid, and even bulletproof vests.
The law would also ban bricks and rocksitems that arguably serve only a violent purpose. And while I don't object completely to confrontational protests, the idea of brick-tossing activists is not one I'm that fond of. It creates a dangerous image for the mainstream media to exploit. On the other hand, when adrenaline-hyped cops start shooting rubber bullets and gas canisters at peaceful protesters, one can't be asked to simply concede, so the nearest hard, throwable object will have to suffice.
What really gets me is that the city was specific enough to put gas masks and bulletproof vests on the list of items to ban. Now, come on! That just reeks of totalitarian politics. The government of Miami is essentially saying, "We don't care if you're peaceful and want to protect yourself from our gas and bullets. You're out of luck. Stay home."
This kind of government action could set a scary precedent that other cities are sure to want to follow.
But here's the kicker. The city of Miami has intentionally delayed the vote on the ordinance until October 23rd, just a few weeks prior to the meetings and protests. This will make it more difficult for groups like the ACLU to file a lawsuit to block the ruling if it is approved.
"You're closing the window for public debate," Commissioner Tomas Regalado, the only commissioner who voted against the delay, told The Miami Herald. "The secrecy of trying to iron out differences is wrong."
This meeting is expected to attract anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 protesters. Of course, Miami wants as few protesters to come as possible. I certainly hope that, no matter what the city rules, the protesters still turn out en masse, with gas masks!
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