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COLUMN

On Being Shot (In the Head)

Michael Borucke

On Thursday, Nov. 20, tens of thousands marched on Miami to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas meetings that were taking place there. Instead of talking about the agreement, however, I want to discuss an unusual experience that I had while in Miami -- namely, getting shot by the police. However, I need to explain the circumstances surrounding the shot so as to convey as accurately as my personal perspective will allow the brutality and impunity with which the police acted.

The large union march against the FTAA organized by Teamsters, Steelworkers, and AFL-CIO members had ended in the late afternoon on Thursday. The unionists then went to an amphitheater, leaving the more radical demonstrators on the street. Earlier, the police had diverted the march from its permitted route, resulting in a march through Miami’s industrial sector. Many felt disappointed that people were bringing our message of resistance to corporate-driven so-called “free trade” to a bunch of cement mixers, dump trucks, and vacant buildings, but to almost no people.

The radicals eventually marched to the police line twenty meters in front of the security fence that surrounded the hotel in which trade ministers had their meeting. I was ten meters away from the cop line when the radicals confronted them and started chanting. After fifteen minutes, cops began launching tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Let me be clear: from my vantage point -- ten meters away atop a two-meter electrical box -- it was the police that initiated what some would call an attack, and others would call riot control. When the tear gas did not disperse the demonstrators, police began marching to move the crowd back physically. Some cops had large wooden batons, and some had riot shields. They carried various types of arms, including paintball guns, rifles, and a gun with a large barrel that I could have mistaken for a grenade launcher if I didn’t know better.

After being pushed back by indiscriminate fire of assorted ammunition, including paintball pellets and bean bags, the crowd was swept into a side street. Then another police line behind them prevented the crowd from moving back any further. At this point, my two friends and I found ourselves in the front of the crowd, not more than twenty meters away from the police line. After a brief cessation of firing, a second line of police moved in front of the first, at which time the firing recommenced. My two friends were holding their hands up in a peace sign, while I was next to them, wearing a gas mask, and waving a black shirt I had found on the street.

All of the sudden, there was a thud on the right side of my ear; I temporarily went deaf, except for the loud ringing in my ears. I had been hit dead on by a rubber bullet, and my ear bled pretty easily. At the same time, my friend had been hit in the diaphragm by a hard translucent plastic pellet with a metal core, knocking the wind out of him. Medics escorted me to a wellness center where many injured activists had already been treated. I spoke to three people with head wounds; one person got it in the neck, one had a large bump on her forehead above her eyes, and one had gotten hit inches above his left eye. When I got stitched up at the hospital, I spoke to another activist who got sixteen stitches above her right eyebrow. The doctor who stitched me said there was one protester needing surgery, and one that had orbital damage.

I haven’t even told you about the retired persons who were arrested, the undercover cops, the agent provocateurs who charged protesters with felonies for walking to their hotels, or the illegal searches conducted by cops a few days before the protests and purely for intimidation purposes.

If the tactics used by police were excessive, the reporting done by the media was complicit. Before the protest, Miami journalists had stated on television that they were going to embed themselves with the police and cover the story from there. On the night of the demonstration, the media framed the clash as they have many others, claiming that the majority of protesters were peaceful, a minority were violent, and the police used appropriate force on these latter protesters. Reports cut to clips of police showing journalists a cache of weapons allegedly taken from anarchist protesters: a double-bladed knife, bottles of urine, metal nuts, and slingshots. Other newscasts focused on the injuries a few policemen suffered during the demonstrations, with scenes of a policeman in the hospital, having strained his back while keeping the peace.

Blatantly missing were images of protesters bleeding or being beaten. The only TV report that mentioned police repression was Univision, a Spanish-speaking channel. Few other local newscasts, if any, interviewed people who had been in the conflict -- not to mention someone who had gotten shot. For people outside of Florida, the coverage was almost nil. The story was neglected by The New York Times and most mainstream TV stations. (For the vast majority of you still in the dark about the FTAA, visit http://stopftaa.org.)

If you’re thinking that the FTAA protests in Miami are unrelated to your studies, you’re technically right. But the police chief that was contracted out from Philadelphia to Miami to train the 2,500 cops for the demonstrations has been contracted to Boston to train the police here for the Democratic National Convention. I encourage all readers not to miss that one.

Michael Borucke is a member of the class of 2001.