Police were worried that the free trade meetings held in downtown Miami last week would get out of control.
They had little to be anxious about.
Headlines were made on Friday, the final day of the demonstrations, over a group of several dozen violent protesters about 200 yards away from a trade minister’s meeting. But there were 300 Miami police to take care of the few dozen dissenters. Just over 80 arrests were made in all, with charges ranging from assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest to burglary.
Most of the week’s protesters conducted their protests peacefully and in accordance with the law.
But police had reason to be concerned. In 1999, similar rallies in Seattle led to protesters throwing stones and gasoline-bombs at police in an attempt to disband the WTO summit that was being held there. Over 11,000 officers were used to keep the peace.
Miami police were out in similar numbers. In anticipation of the event, brigades were stationed at every cross street, wearing head-to-toe bullet-proof padding with helmets and plastic face masks and holding thick crowd-control batons horizontally against their bodies.
In parts of Bicentennial Park where the protests began, officers lounged in the sun after the main march had passed and leaned back-to-back against each other. Aids filtered through the ranks, handing out bottles of water and energy bars.
At the main protest Thursday, 10,000 protesters were expected, but it appeared as though far less actually showed up. And while the protesters were prepared with pamphlets and chants, the sidewalks were virtually devoid of crowds to watch them.
“What good is a protest without people to watch?” said Michael Weisbein, junior, who attended the rally Thursday. “They close down the entire downtown district for this thing, and the protests go on, but for who?”
UM is a short metro ride away from the demonstrations. Several campus groups went down to either watch or participate in the protests.
Several members of UM’s Advocates for Conservative Thought attended protests Friday, and at least two classes went downtown as part of the curriculum.
Local schools have also used the protests as a case study.
“I think the FTAA summit demonstrations have been over-hyped,” Ileana Duyos, a local elementary school teacher, said. “The city definitely took great measures to prepare for the summit.”
“Some of my friends have had discussions about the FTAA in their classes,” Les Pantin, a Gulliver Preparatory High School student, said. “The media made the protests seem almost uncontrollable prior to the summit.”
John Cervera, a student at FIU, said the media has sensationalized the protests instead of concentrating on informing the public of what the FTAA actually is.
“They give the anarchists the attention they want,” Cervera said.
The week was full of media coverage, with swarms of reporters covering every inch of protest. In one protest against the Gap clothing company, about a dozen demonstrators went without clothes, attracting attention from more than a dozen media outlets.
One protester summed up his participation by saying that any little bit of activism would help the cause.
“When you quit, you’re responsible for your own defeat,” said John Sutcliffe, a protester at Thursday’s demonstrations.
The summit ended Thursday, earlier than planned, when the FTAA ministers came to a tentative agreement on a framework for what will be the world’s largest free trade area.
Jillian Bandes can be contacted at email@example.com. Ernesto Zaldivar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.