Occupy Atlanta plans second attempt to camp at city park
ATLANTA -- Occupy Atlanta organizers said Sunday that they plan to again try to camp at a city park, setting up yet another showdown with police a night after 20 people were arrested during a rally that spilled into the streets.
The group will hold its general assembly meeting Sunday evening, then march back to Woodruff Park downtown, said organizer Tim Franzen. Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said police would continue to enforce the law.
Anti-Wall Street protesters across the country have been arrested in recent weeks, most for curfew violations. Some of the most intense confrontations between demonstrators and police have been in Oakland, Calif., where two Iraq War veterans have been hurt in separate clashes with officers.
In Atlanta, 19 people were arrested on charges they refused to leave the park after curfew or blocked city roads, police said. Franzen said they would be released from jail Sunday. He said one other person charged with aggravated assault and obstruction likely won't be bailed out until sometime this week.
Before Saturday's 11 p.m. curfew, a crowd of several hundred protesters had set up tents at Woodruff Park, the scene of about 50 arrests of demonstrators last month. Organizers had said they planned to stay overnight despite warnings from the mayor and police that anyone there past closing would be arrested.
But as 11 p.m. approached, protesters began decamping peacefully. Dozens of officers were on hand, herding protesters away from the park's entrances and installing barricades around it. A police helicopter flew overhead.
While most protesters left the park, a few people stayed behind. Many spilled onto Peachtree Street, blocking roads. An officer on a motorcycle, with its lights and siren turned on, drove into a crowd marching on the street.
Video of the incident appears to show two people pushing against the front of the motorcycle as the engine revs. A scuffle ensues when a third person intervenes, which leads to a sometimes tense confrontation between protesters and officers.
Police officers in riot gear and on horseback filled the street, warning protesters to stay on the sidewalk. The protesters shouted at the officers, chanting slogans such as, "Shame! Shame!" and "What about your pensions?" A small group yelled more insulting things like, "Put the pigs back in their sty, we the people occupy."
Protesters began camping out in Woodruff Park on Oct. 7. Mayor Kasim Reed initially issued an executive order allowing them to stay overnight, but later revoked it after he said there were increasing security concerns.
"Mayor Reed was clear earlier this week in his public statements that the City of Atlanta would arrest any persons who violated the law," Police Chief George Turner said. The statement added warnings were issued over a loudspeaker repeatedly in English and Spanish before the latest arrests.
Saturday's crowd swelled during the brisk evening, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson paid an early evening visit to show his support. He told those gathered that the movement was an extension of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign.
Hours later, though, Occupy Atlanta organizer Latron Price said he was disappointed that the situation grew confrontational.
"As responsible occupiers, we have to step up and try to display an example that the overall agenda is not about confrontation with police," he said. "We need to deal with the banks, we need to deal with home foreclosures, and we need to deal with wealth disparity."
Asked about the exchanges with police, the 37-year-old Atlanta man said, "That has me equally upset because we're losing what we came here to do, which is to protest peacefully."
He said protesters need to regroup and focus on a nonviolent message.
La'die Mansfield, 29, a spokeswoman for the Occupy Atlanta, said the police used "unnecessary force."
"Today is a sad day for us. It's almost like we're seeing a little bit of what happened in Oakland here, not to the extent," she said. "Today was just a reminder of the system that we have, the corrupt system."