Police officers in SWAT-style gear descended Tuesday on an Overtown apartment building where dozens of Occupy Miami members moved after the group's Downtown encampment "Peace City" was evicted.
Occupiers say police arrived suddenly before a protest march, pouring from vans to order residents of 540 NW Seventh Street into the building's courtyard before searching both people and apartments. Three Occupy members were reportedly handcuffed before being released; three others were taken to police headquarters for questioning. No one was arrested.
"They said that they had gotten a tip that we had 'long guns' and were going to use them at our protest," Occupy member Thomas Parisi told Miami New Times. "But we are a peaceful movement and told them that we had no intention of doing anything like that."
A photo taken by one member who was detained suggested he was taken to MPD's Special Investigations Unit, which houses the Narcotics Unit, the Intelligence and Terrorism Unit, and the Joint Interdiction Unit. Miami Police have not yet responded to requests for comment, and the FBI would not confirm one eyewitness report that FBI agents were also present.
"It is not uncommon for the FBI to assist local law enforcement," FBI Special Agent Michael Leverock told HuffPost. "In this case, we are not going to discuss if this is one of those instances."
"They had military assault rifles and tactical shotguns. Fully lethal," reported Occupy on their Facebook site, before posting video showing residents of the "Fort Peace" building sitting or kneeling in the property's courtyard while officers with assault rifles kept order.
"This is some of the scarier footage I have ever seen," wrote author Naomi Wolf on her Facebook page. "What were they doing telling you to KNEEL and put your hands on your heads?"
Dozens of Occupy members moved into the building after its owner, an Occupier who changed his name to Sr. Paz (Mr. Peace), donated some of the vacant apartments to Occupiers rent-free. But recent postings suggest a rift between those living at the apartment building and other Occupy Miami members, and the last Twitter update from a main Occupy Miami account says it has been "hijacked by a small, non-consensus group of radical members."
Another member posted on Twitter that the Facebook page, too, was "unilaterally taken over by a rogue element in the group following an attack by police in riot gear."
For the group at "Fort Peace," the trouble is not only internal.
"They were asking me questions like, 'Are you a Muslim?' and 'Do you love this country?'" protestor Ramy Mahmoud told New Times. "I said hell no I don't love this country and it's because of shit like this...They are calling us terrorists but what I saw today was demons pointing guns at us. They terrified us."
UPDATE, 9 p.m.: A eyewitness account of the police action has been published at OccupiedStories.com. Writes Occupy Miami member Chris Mazorra:
"Vans, trucks, cars, and even an armored Hummer were surrounding us and we all had this variety of guns aimed at us, being ordered to get on the ground...we were in front of a residential apartment building with children inside and a couple of them were actually sitting outside in the lot watching this happen...
Requests not to be stepped on were met with “Shut the f*** up!” Our questions regarding their reasons for all this were met with “Shut the f*** up!” Guess what our requests for a warrant for the searches they began were met with…
Everybody in front of the building who was heading to the rally was lying flat on the floor with our faces to the ground and were being searched by MPD while the agents and heavily armed officers dispersed around the building and rounded up everyone inside and searched all unlocked rooms."
Mazorra also writes that an agent in charge shortly explained that law enforcement suspected a small Occupy "splinter group...was planning to incite violence with weapons," and that officers present were both FBI and members of MPD's Intelligence and Terrorism Unit.