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Posts tagged Miami

No, seriously, I could swear the water in this pot is getting a little hotter….

You already knew that Chicago patrol cops are planning to carry M4 assault rifles in the inner city and Springfield, Massachusetts cops plan to switch to black, military-style uniforms in the inner city in order to restore a sense of fear.

But wait, there’s more.

In Tulare County, California, the county sheriff’s office has formed a new, dedicated Gang Unit to engage in saturation patrols of the south end of town, to pull over suspicious cars (any guess on what color suspicious drivers are likely to be), get in the faces of suspect young men (any guess on what the color of those faces will be?), and generally to make sure that certain members of the public are afraid to use public spaces. By putting more heavily-armed police officers on the streets, they claim to be taking weapons off the streets. Gang Unit mouthpiece Sergeant Harold Liles says that the purpose of all this letting them know we are here, and the streets belong to us.

In Wilmington, Delaware, a new charter school is in the planning stages. It will enroll as many as 600 inner-city high school students — or rather, Cadets — for training in jobs for the front lines in the Nation’s [sic] homeland security. The Academy will require its teenaged cadets to wear uniforms, give them extensive physical training during and after school, offer homeland security training as an after-school activity, and offer a choice of vocational curricula ranging from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) through prison guard, water rescue, paramedic, fireman, professional demolition and emergency response operator.

Meanwhile, in the great northwest, Montana Highway Patrol used to carry M14 rifles in the trunks of their patrol cars in case of an emergency. Soon they will all be carrying AR-15 assault rifles strapped to the front seat of the car. Montana Highway Patrol mouthpiece Jerril Ren says that For the most part, they’re trying to make them [high-powered assault rifles] more readily available to the officer and said that the higher-powered guns were necessary for now-common tactical situations.

The Palm Beach County, Florida sheriff’s office is now training and arming regular cops on the beat with AR-15 assault rifles.

Inner-city patrol cops in Miami have also been carrying assault rifles for the past few months, at the behest of city Police Chief John Timoney.

Johnson City, Tennessee patrol cops were already armed with handguns and shotguns. Now they have started a new weapons program to ensure that at least some patrol cops are carrying other, special weapons on every patrol shift. They won’t say in public what those weapons are or how many they are putting onto the streets.

The Washington County, Tennessee sheriff’s office just got a grant from the federal government to arm their patrol cops with AR-15 assault rifles.

And if you’re wondering why all these stories have suddenly hit the news so close to each other, over just the last month, in so many different cities and counties, my suspicion is that you’ve got the answer right there: the United States federal government, which spent the past 30 years or so involving itself in state and local law enforcement agencies through the use of tax-funded training, grants, and equipment sales for paramilitary SWAT teams and anti-terrorism task forces, now seems to be making use of those same grants to more heavily arm and more thoroughly militarize ordinary patrol cops on the highway, in the inner city, and in rural sheriff’s offices.

Do you feel safer now?

See also:

Non-Lethal Force

In Florida, another man has died after being tasered by cops:

A man in his 20s died after a Coral Gables police officer used a Taser stun gun to subdue him Friday morning.

He was identified Friday afternoon as Xavier Jones, 29.

Jones had been disruptive at a party and resisted arrest, according to Miami-Dade police, whose homicide bureau is investigating the death.

About 2 a.m., police officers responded to a call about a scuffle at University Inn Condominium, 1280 S. Alahambra Cir., near the University of Miami. The building is across the street from the university and borders on U.S. 1.

After the man became disruptive inside the apartment, a security guard attempted to remove him from the property. The confrontation spilled outside.

Miami-Dade police said Jones displayed aggressive and combative behavior so a police officer used a Taser stun gun to restrain him.

After the discharge, Jones became unresponsive, and paramedics took him to Doctor’s Hospital in Coral Gables, where he was pronounced dead.

— David Ovalle, Miami Herald (2008-01-11): Man who died in Gables Tasing identified

Although I write a lot about police brutality involving tasers, I should make it clear that I don’t have any essential problem with the use of tasers, either by police or in individual self-defense. My issue has to do with the brutality, not with the equipment used, and I think that these incidents have a lot more to do with an arrogant, violent, and completely unaccountable institutional culture within police forces than they have to do with the specifics of painful electric shocks. When tasers weren’t available, cops happily used guns and truncheons; I wouldn’t regard a return to that status quo ante as any kind of progress.

That said, there are a couple of things about the use of tasers which may be some reason for special concern. One of them is the capacity to use painful electric shocks as a form of torture which doesn’t leave embarrassing bruises or other visible signs of the brutality. The second is the persistent and institutionalized dogma that tasers shocks are always a non-lethal use of force. This belief–which naturally makes individual cops and policy-setters much less cautious about the use of tasers than they might otherwise be, is endlessly repeated by cops, PR flacks, and by Taser Inc., which has gone so far as to misrepresent the findings of studies and sending PR flacks to personally lean on coroners to alter their findings in order to insulate their claims from inconvenient empirical evidence. The belief persists, in spite of hundreds of documented cases of people dying soon after being tasered, and in spite of an almost complete lack of controlled research on the health effects of taser shocks (particularly repeated shocks), because the cops’ basic interest is to be able to use as wide a variety of pain compliance techniques as possible without any danger of being held accountable for the consequences; the politicos’ basic interest is to curry favor with the Fraternal Order of Pigs and to come across as tough-on-crime; and Taser Inc.’s basic interest is in making a bloody buck through ongoing political patronage. Given the arrogance of power that they have all cultivated, and the political privileges that they all enjoy, none of them have much reason to be particularly interested in empirical reality, or for that matter in the lives of their victims.

(Story thanks to Strike the Root Blog 2008-01-11.)

Further reading:

Coalition of Immokalee Workers marches in Miami

Fellow workers:

Right now, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are marching in the streets of Miami, as part of their campaign to win wage increases for tomato pickers whose tomatoes are bought by Burger King. Here’s why.

Today, farmworkers from Immokalee, Florida and their religious, labor, and student allies are marching 9 miles through the streets of Miami to the world headquarters of Burger King.

Today we march because there is a human rights crisis in the fields of Florida. Tomato pickers who harvest tomatoes for the fast-food industry face sweatshop conditions every day, including sub-poverty, stagnant wages (pickers earn about $10,000/year on average and a per-bucket piece rate that has not changed significantly since 1978) and the denial of basic labor rights.

Today we march because to earn minimum wage for a 10-hour day, a tomato picker in Florida must harvest over TWO AND A HALF TONS of tomatoes.

Today we are marching because, in the most extreme cases, farmworkers face conditions of modern-day slavery. We have seen five slavery operations in the fields brought to the federal courts since 1997, helping to liberate over 1,000 workers and sending 10 employers to prison.

Today we march because Burger King contributes directly to farmworkers?? poverty through its high-volume purchasing practices, for decades demanding the cheapest tomatoes possible but never demanding fair treatment or just wages for the people who harvest those tomatoes.

Today we are marching because we have hope. In the past years farmworkers and consumers have united to bring Yum Brands (the world’s largest restaurant corporation) and McDonald’s to the table to help improve tomato pickers’ wages and working conditions.

Today we march because, in the wake of these changes, we stand on the threshold of a more modern, more humane agricultural industry in Florida. Yet, facing this historic opportunity, Burger King has responded with lies and excuses to not take responsibility.

Today we are marching to say ENOUGH.

Today we are marching for the dignity of workers, consumers, and our communities alike.

JOIN US as we demand justice. Rally at Burger King headquarters this afternoon, 3:30 to 6:00, at Blue Lagoon Drive and NW 57 Ave.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers (2007-11-30): Why We March

Migrant farmworkers in southern Florida spend every workday picking tomatoes by hand for 10 to 12 hours at a stretch, at a piece rate of $0.40–$0.45 for every 32 pound bucket that they fill (or about 1¼ to 1½ pennies per pound of tomatoes picked). Since that piece rate hasn’t changed since 1978, farmworker’s real wages have actually fallen by more than two thirds over the past three decades, thanks to the combination of the farm bosses’ efforts to stonewall wage increases and the Federal Reserve’s efforts to keep the market safe for finance capital by eating up the value of other people’s wages.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmworkers’ union founded in 1993 and organized along community workers’ council lines, has been working to change all that. They are mostly immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean; many of them have no legal immigration papers; they are pretty near all mestizo, Indian, or Black; they have to speak at least four different languages amongst themselves; they are often heavily in debt to coyotes or labor sharks for the cost of their travel to the U.S.; they get no benefits and no overtime; they have no fixed place of employment and get work from day to day only at the pleasure of the growers; they work at many different sites spread out anywhere from 10–100 miles from their homes; they often have to move to follow work over the course of the year; and they are extremely poor (most tomato pickers live on about $7,500–$10,000 per year, and spend months with little or no work when the harvesting season ends). But in the face of all that, and across lines of race, culture, nationality, and language, the C.I.W. have organized themselves anyway, through efforts that are nothing short of heroic, and they have done it as a wildcat union with no recognition from the federal labor bureaucracy and little outside help from the organized labor establishment. By using creative nonviolent tactics that would be completely illegal if they were subject to the bureaucratic discipline of the Taft-Hartley Act, the C.I.W. has won major victories on wages and conditions over the past two years. They have bypassed the approved channels of collective bargaining between select union reps and the boss, and gone up the supply chain to pressure the tomato buyers, because they realized that they can exercise a lot more leverage against highly visible corporations with brands to protect than they can in dealing with a cartel of government-subsidized vegetable growers that most people outside of southern Florida wouldn’t know from Adam.

The C.I.W.’s creative use of moral suasion and secondary boycott tactics have already won them agreements with Taco Bell (in 2005) and then McDonald’s (this past spring), which almost doubled the effective piece rate for tomatoes picked for these restaurants. They established a system for pass-through payments, under which participating restaurants agreed to pay a bonus of an additional penny per pound of tomatoes bought, which an independent accountant distributed to the pickers at the farm that the restaurant bought from. Each individual agreement makes a significant but relatively small increase in the worker’s effective wages — about $100 more per worker per year in the case of the Taco Bell agreement — but each victory won means a concrete increase in wages, and an easier road to getting the pass-through system adopted industry-wide, which would in the end nearly double tomato-pickers’ annual income.

Since the victory in the McDonald’s campaign, the C.I.W. have turned their attention from the Clown to the Crown, and Burger King Inc. has mostly followed the same path as Yum! Brands and McDonald’s did. First they ignored them. Then they stonewalled them. Then they tried to make up some excuses, and had a P.R. flack make an ill-considered little funny about how distressed farmworkers should apply for a job at their stores. (If I recall correctly, that same exact joke was recycled from Taco Bell.) Unfortunately, before moving on to the inevitable last step — in which they cave, the C.I.W. wins, the farm workers get a bonus, and the fast food chain gets to issue a press release patting themselves on the back for their humanitarian buying standards — Burger King has decided to make a detour through some dirty anti-labor joint maneuvers with the Florida tomato growers’ cartel.

The Florida Tomato Growers’ Exchange is a cartel and legislative lobby which represents more than 90% of Florida’s tomato growers. It has recently set out to destroy the pass-through system. Since the bonuses are paid by the buyers, the system costs the farm bosses nothing to implement, and I’m not entirely clear what their interest is here (although, if I had to guess, they are probably worried that widespread success for the system would raise workers’ expectations about pay and conditions). Burger King and the cartel recently teamed up on a joint P.R. campaign intended to convince the eating public that farm workers are actually richer than most minimum-wage workers, and besides which the farm bosses pay for charity houses and scholarships for their poor kids. (The basis for their argument is a comparison of estimated hourly wages. Of course, the reliability of those hours, or the total annual income, is never mentioned.)

Meanwhile, the F.T.G.E. and Burger King have endorsed the cartel’s yellow-dog auditing agency, S.A.F.E. Reps from Burger King and the tomato cartel have also teamed up with a Republican state congressman to discredit the C.I.W., by claiming that the set-up looks fishy, denouncing nonviolent protest and consumer boycotts as extortion, and then insinuating that the pass-through system is little more than a channel for graft, and that C.I.W. is pocketing a skim. Since they have no empirical evidence for this claim, they have relied on innuendo and unsubstantiated soundbites, and they have refused to give any backing for their claims, while steadfastly ignoring the offers of participating restaurants, who dismiss the claim, to explain how the system works.

Meanwhile, Reggie Brown, the tomato cartel’s professional spokesdick, has invoked the spectre of federal prosecution, claiming that the C.I.W.’s voluntary pass-through system somehow violates federal antitrust and racketeering laws. Brown has also denounced the freely bargained agreements as un-American, apparently because they organized bosses’ divine right to control the terms of wage negotiations with no input from workers organizations or, for that matter, their customers. The cartel has publicly warned its members not to participate, and, behind the scenes, they have apparently threatened any member who participates in the penny-per-pound pass-through system with a $100,000 fine. As a result, while Taco Bell and McDonald’s are still willing to participate in the bonus system, all of the growers have, as of now, announced that they will not participate next year.

Well, fine. If they want to play hardball, let them play hardball. Workers are more than capable of hitting that hardball right back. The main danger, at this point, is that, with spokesdick Brown’s muttered fulminations about federal prosecution and the bosses’ enlistment of state government creeps on their side, this fight may get kicked from creative, nonviolent industrial action, over into the stifling atmosphere of legal and regulatory action. As long as the C.I.W., and the workers and consumers acting in solidarity with them, keep away from political action, we have all the resources we need to beat them. The Taco Bell boycott was won, after years of stonewalling, through fight-to-win tactics like working with sympathetic students to get Taco Bell franchises booted out of campus dining halls. This fight can be won through more of the same, and better. Never forget that the workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the weapons and property that the plutocrats have to attack us. As Robin Blumner writes in the St. Petersburg Times:

The coalition initially tried to convince the growers to pay the added penny but they wouldn’t budge, so the group sought to enlist fast-food giants instead. Go to the major buyers who have reputations to uphold and have them pay the penny. It was a brilliant stroke.

Consumers tend to respond well to a company they think is socially responsible, and the converse is true.

… According to [C.I.W. rep Julia] Perkins, there are growers willing to help their workers secure this additional wage but the exchange is standing in the way.

Both Yum Brands and McDonald’s say they are committed to their agreement with the coalition. It appears that for now, however, things are on hold until the coalition and these companies can figure out a way around the intransigence of the exchange.

This is how it often is in labor fights: Employers dig in so hard that even an extra penny – one that they’re not even paying – is too much to ask. No wonder they can’t find Americans to do this work.

In the meantime, the coalition is trying to convince Burger King Corp. to come aboard, and is planning a demonstration at its headquarters in Miami on Friday. Keva Silversmith, a Burger King representative, says that the Florida growers have a right to run their business how they see fit.

I guess expending the $250,000 it would cost Burger King is simply too much for a company that is paying its CEO $2.35-million a year.

Okay consumers, sic ’em.

— Robin Blumner, St. Petersburg Times (2007-11-25): At a penny per pound, a little adds up to a lot

Further reading:

Urban homesteading

So, I have an essay coming up in next month’s Freeman (thanks to the encouragement and editorial efforts of the indefatigable Sheldon Richman). It’s called Scratching By, and the theme is to explain how it’s not the free market, but rather the State, in its role as the invisible fist of corporate capitalism, that creates the material predicament faced by poor folks in American cities. One of the topics that I touched on there, and which I mentioned before in my comments on the South Central Farmers, is government control and planning of inner-city land use. Government regimentation of land squeezes poor people economically; perhaps more importantly, it also keeps them permanently in hock to, and at the mercy of, a select handful of politically-connected developers and slumlords. Last week, Women of Color Blog (2007-11-09) alerted me to the latest example: HUD’s continuing refusal to let New Orleans public housing residents return to their old homes, even two years after the fact. All for their own good, of course, whether or not they happen to think that they are best off living as permanent refugees. The plan is to begin demolishing the homes, now forcibly kept vacant, in order to make room for government redistribution of the land to connected developers for the usual urban renewal projects.

A major human rights crisis exists in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. It is a crisis that denies the basic rights to life, equality under the law, and social equity to Black, Indigenous, migrant, and working class communities in the region. While this crisis was in existence long before Hurricane Katrina, the policies and actions of the US government and finance capital (i.e. banking, credit, insurance, and development industries) following the Hurricane have seriously exacerbated the crisis.

One of the clearest examples of this crisis is the denial of the right to housing in New Orleans, particularly in the public housing sector. Since the Hurricane, the US government through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has denied the vast majority of the residents of public housing the right to return to their homes. Unlike the vast majority of the housing stock in New Orleans, the majority of the public housing units received little to no flood or wind damage from the Hurricane. Yet, as of October 2007 only ¼ of the public housing units have been reopened and reoccupied. The Bush government refuses to reopen the public housing units in New Orleans because it appears intent on destroying the public housing system, demolishing the existing structures, and turning over the properties to private real-estate developers to make profits.

Based on the discriminatory Federal Court ruling issued on Monday, September 10th, all of the major public housing units in New Orleans are now subject to immediate demolition (the latest report from Monday, November 5th is that HUD will attempt to start the demolition on Monday, November 19th. However, this is being challenged by various legal advocates and will be delayed until at least Wednesday, November 28th pending a Federal court hearing). The first site on the schedule for demolition is the Lafitte housing project.

— My Private Casbah 2007-11-09: All Public Housing Units In New Orleans Set To Be Demolished

Now, I’m an anarchist. As such, I’m also intent — far more intent than George W. Bush could ever dream to be — on destroying the so-called public housing system. I hope to destroy it right along with the rest of the statist system of regimentation, rationing, command and control. But, the Department of Bulldozers’ opinions notwithstanding, destroying the system of control is not the same thing as knocking over the homes that the government controls. The hope is to liberate them and allow people to reclaim their lives from the domination of the State and the exploitation of state capitalism.

As far as these particular public housing units are concerned, the proper question to ask is, who rightfully owns the homes that are set to be demolished? In the eyes of the State legal system, that’s the Housing Authority of New Orleans, a quasi-governmental non-profit corporation substantially under the control of its patron, the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. But neither HANO nor any other creature of the State can be the rightful owner of this or any other property. States are nothing more than massive criminal enterprises; they have no land and no money except what they expropriate from others by force. Their claim to the Lafitte housing project, like all their other claims, is fraudulent, because piracy is not a legitimate means for acquiring title to anything.

So if not HANO, who are the rightful owners? Well, when property has been lost or abandoned, it rightfully belongs to those who find it and put it to use. In the case of New Orleans and its government housing projects, that means that the people who should rightfully be regarded as the owners are not HUD or HANO bureaucrats, but rather the current tenants. Each resident has gained a legitimate ownership interest in her home, and in the land that it is built on, in virtue of occupying and homesteading it. Radical libertarians should recognize, on free market principles, that the federal government’s interventionist efforts to lock poor people out of their own homes and pass the land along to the nearest professional slumlord for development should be regarded as nothing more or less than State-sponsored theft. Specifically, State-sponsored theft in the name of propping up the political-economic class system of landlordism.

The radical implications of the homesteading principle for urban housing extend far beyond New Orleans. In pretty much every major American city, there is a more or less permanent supply of vacant lots, burned-out plants, condemned buildings, and other land which has been held out of use for years, and will continue to be held out of use for years to come. Part of the reason that so much land remains idle is that formal title has often been seized by the city government or by quasi-governmental development corporations, through the use of eminent domain, and the lots are simply abandoned while they await government public works projects or developers willing to buy up the land for large-scale building. In a free market, vacant lots and abandoned buildings should be available for homesteading by anyone willing to do the work of occupying and using them — which emphatically includes poor people in search of housing, a place to set up shop, land to cultivate for food, or for whatever other use they can put it to. It is only government intervention on behalf of state capitalism that keeps these lots shuttered and keeps them locked up in the hands of government bureaucrats and real estate developers; without statism there would be no political process of expropriation, demolition, redistribution, and redevelopment. Free people would be able to establish property rights in abandoned land, and thus provide their own housing, free of landlords and bulldozers, through their own sweat equity.

It’s because of this that I’ve been following the Take Back the Land movement in Miami with a lot of interest and a lot of sympathy. Their first project, the Umoja Village shanty-town (1, 2), was as good an example as you could like of socializing the land through direct action. And now, Max Rameau writes that their new project is to Take Back the Housing:

October 23, 2007 marks one year since the rise of the Umoja Village Shantytown in the Liberty City section of Miami in response to the crisis of gentrification and low income housing. In the year since this “people power” action, much has changed and much more remains the same. Black and other poor communities are ravaged by the crisis of gentrification and low-income housing while the same government which extracts taxes from us, does nothing to alleviate the crisis. One year later, the issue of community control over land remains fundamental in solving the crisis.

As the real estate bubble explodes around us, vacant foreclosed homes litter our communities and speculators choose to hold onto vacant houses and apartments, waiting for the next market swing in order to make their millions. For it’s part, in spite of all the scandal and crisis, Miami-Dade County doggedly maintains an unconscionable and immoral stockpile of vacant public housing units, units which otherwise would shelter some of the 41,000 families languishing on the housing assistance waiting list.

All the while, the homeless population grows, particularly among the under-housed, those not living on the street, but doubling and tripling up in single family homes, including public housing, where the extra families live illegally, endangering the housing security of the entire extended family, sometimes right next door to a boarded up, vacant unit.

We are forced to conclude that Miami-Dade County intentionally leaves units vacant, or tears down public housing all together–exemplified by the HOPE VI funded Scott-Carver public housing project demolition–as a means of fueling the real estate boom. When governments take units of low-income housing off of the market, the value of the remaining privately held units increases, as families scramble to find new living arrangements. This is nothing short of tax financed market manipulation, designed to decrease supply at a time when demand is sky high, resulting in a government sponsored–not market driven–real estate boom.

… In spite of the crisis, scandal and controversy, the reality is that local governments continue to enrich wealthy developers and have intentionally failed to address this crisis in any meaningful way. Neither Miami-Dade County nor the federal government operates based on the interests of poor Black people. As such, we are left with no other option than to provide for the people for whom the government is not providing.

Take Back the Land, again, asserts the right of the Black community to control land in the Black community. In order to provide housing for people, not for profit, this community control over land must now take the form of direct community control over housing.

Consequently, Take Back the Land has initiated the process of moving families and individuals into vacant housing, whether public, foreclosed upon or privately owned and intentionally vacated.

As of this writing, several families have already been moved into housing and several more are desperately awaiting their turn. We will move families and individuals into vacant housing units all across Miami-Dade County.

— Take Back the Land 2007-10-24: Take Back the Housing

A true free market requires an end to what Benjamin Tucker rightly condemned as the land monopoly, and a radical application of the homestead principle, which means that an awful lot of squatter’s rights can and should be recognized as the basis of a just claim to the land. While I disagree with Tucker on some of the specifics of rightful land ownership — for example, I don’t think that rental contracts necessarily constitute abandonment of land — I do agree that absentee landlordism is artificially propped up by a pervasive and unjust system of government intervention on behalf of the rentier class. Abandoned land rightfully belongs to those who can reclaim it through occupancy and use. So three cheers from this libertarian to Take Back the Land, and here’s hoping that counter-economic urban homesteading will spread — throughout Miami, onward to New Orleans, and throughout every housing market currently clutched in the talons of land monopoly and state capitalism.

Further reading:

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