The Occupy Atlanta Movement shifted from the streets to the courts Wednesday Morning. About two dozen supporters showed up for the hearings of the 53 demonstrators arrested when police cleared Woodruff Park overnight.
Organizers had instructed participants to be peaceful if arrests came, and most were. Many gathered in the center of the park, locking arms, and sang “We Shall Overcome,” until police led them out, one-by-one. Arrests like these are happening around the country, but what set these apart is Atlanta’s place in history.
One week ago today, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed stood behind protesters saying he sympathized with them given the city’s reputation as the cradle of the modern civil rights movement. He said the eyes of the country were on the city and announced protesters would be allowed to stay in the park without a permit until a time of his choosing.
That was then and now arrested demonstrators are facing a judge. “The mayor went back on his word,” says Occupy protester Pam Johnson. “Everyone has forgotten our constitutional rights. How many more rights are we going to be denied? The next time it might be yours.”
State Senator Vincent Fort was among those arrested and had come to the park to lend his support. He describes the police presence as overkill. “He’s using all these resources. This is the most peaceful place in Georgia,” Fort said, referring to Reed. “At the urging of the business community, he’s moving people out. Shame on him.”
Mayor Reed now says the city had no choice but to close the park down because a protester was seen with an AK-47. He also referred to a hip-hop concert over the weekend when protesters grew rowdy and ignored police instructions, going as far as to sit on top of generators.
Reed adds more than 100 officers cleared the park and in nearly three weeks the movement has cost the city $300,000.
Clergy worked with protesters at the mayor’s request to reach a compromise in the park; however an Occupy spokeswoman says she didn’t believe the clergy were neutral. “I think they were sent here to give the mayor cover,” said La’Die Mansfield. Occupy released a statement about their frustrations: “The evidence shows that despite the fact that Mayor Reed claimed that he was sending clergy to speak with Occupy Atlanta in order to find a ‘peaceful solution,’ the outcome was already predetermined,” the statement said.
“Representatives from the group of clergy arrived at the park and requested a meeting for 5 p.m. That time was not available because of a planned march which was posted in the schedule on Occupy Atlanta’s website. Participants in Occupy Atlanta and the representatives of the group of clergy agreed on a meeting time of Thursday at noon at Big Bethel AME Church. However, Atlanta police did not wait for this meeting to take place.”
Not everyone is in support of Occupy and in attack mode against the mayor. Protesters were in Woodruff Park after hours and there’s the argument the city was well within its rights and was responsible to remove them.
Sam Brandenburg is one Atlanta resident that feels the mayor touted a fine line, respected the need for activism and fulfilled his obligation of protecting the city. “They had their time and publicity. Now it is time to go or stick to park hours and rules or pay the consequences.”
Others like William Johnson who joined Occupy to be a voice for others like himself that are struggling to find work believe the true consequence would come if Occupy was silent. “How soon we have forgotten every right and place we have now is because at some point in time someone before us protested and worked to start a movement,” Johnson said.
A judge has since ruled arrested protesters can be released on signature bonds.They will be arraigned in March, but for now will be returned to the Atlanta City Jail to be processed and released.