He respected the badge, but `not in Miami'

by Jim Defede

Early on Thursday morning, Bentley Killmon boarded a chartered bus to take him from Fort Myers to Miami so he could protest the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The 71-year-old, retired airline pilot said he was amazed by the heavy police presence in downtown Miami when he arrived.

Throughout the day, he said he watched police overreact to incidents. He saw a 53-year-old woman get shot in the chest with rubber bullets. He saw other peaceful protesters being gassed with pepper spray. He saw young people, who weren't doing anything illegal or improper, being pushed and harassed by cops.

''My father was in the Norfolk City Police Department for many years,'' he said. ``Until Thursday, I respected the badge. I respected the job the police had to do. But I no longer respect the badge. Not in Miami. Not after what I saw. Not after what happened to me and others.''

As the day ended, Killmon, along with others from the Alliance for Retired Americans, were trying to find their way back to their buses.

''We ran into a line of brown shirts,'' he said, referring to the uniforms worn by the Miami-Dade Police Department. ``They were very rude. They would not let us pass, and they sent us down the railroad tracks.

''That's when we saw the black shirts coming at us,'' he said. Miami police wore black uniforms.

''They were pointing their guns at us,'' he continued. ``I guess they had those rubber pellets in them, but I didn't know, I was just incredibly frightened. Some of the people with us got down on their knees, and as I got down on my knees, I was briskly pushed to the ground. It felt like I had a foot to my back knocking me down. Everyone in our group was knocked to the ground and handcuffed. I had my hands cuffed behind my back for 7 1?2 hours.''

Killmon said he was charged with disorderly conduct.

''I still don't know what it was I did,'' he said Saturday.

After spending the night in jail, he said a judge dismissed the charges against him.

''Miami was a police state,'' he said.

While city and county leaders pat themselves on the back and Miami Police Chief John Timoney talks about the ''remarkable restraint'' shown by officers, one of them may want to contact Killmon and tell this man what a great job the police did.

Miami's Angel Calzadilla, Timoney's executive assistant, said he couldn't comment on Killmon's arrest until he was certain which police agency arrested him.

''As the story comes out, over the next few hours and days and weeks, the public is going to learn what we saw on the street, that the police provoked these exchanges and went way out of their way to increase the magnitude of their response,'' said Ron Judd, a regional director for the AFL-CIO. ``There was nothing measured in their response. We had retired steel workers, retired firefighters, retired teamsters harassed and arrested Thursday.

''When you start shooting seniors with rubber bullets and using pepper spray on them and arresting them, it's just outrageous,'' Judd said. ``And if their stories don't get people's dander up and the public isn't outraged by this, then folks in South Florida have no heart.''

As far as the national leadership of the AFL-CIO is concerned, what happened in Miami was an insult to every member of the organization.

''You are going to hear from us loud and clear over the next few weeks and months,'' he said. ``All of the options are open -- asking the Justice Department to investigate civil rights abuses, filing our own lawsuits against the city and the county and whatever we can think of. That is how outraged we are by this.''

Fred Frost, president of the South Florida AFL-CIO and its 150,000 members, agreed.

''Am I happy with the way the police treated regular working people and the respect that I think we are due?'' he asked. ``The answer is no. I think they treated us like we were the enemy. The police just seemed to be so hyped up. I felt like I was in a war zone. This wasn't my city. This wasn't the city I know.''