Atlanta, Oakland arrests show impatience with Occupy Wall Street
More than two months after protesters launched the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, patience is wearing thin in some cities, including Atlanta and Oakland, where police have begun to crack down on local demonstrations against corporate greed and big financial institutions.
More than 100 people were arrested overnight in Oakland, and 53, including a state senator, were arrested in Atlanta. The latest actions bring the total number of arrests to between 1,500 and 2,000 since protesters in mid-September took over Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, near Wall Street. More than 700 were arrested in New York City alone and there have been arrests in dozens of cities to which the amorphous movement has spread in the United States.
Unlike in Oakland, where police and demonstrators clashed, the scene was calmer in Atlanta as police entered Robert W. Woodruff Park shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday and arrested 53 people. Some of those arrested engaged in acts of civil disobedience. Some went limp, making their arrest more difficult for police in one of the cradles of the civil rights movement that brought such peaceful resistance to its high point in the 1960s.
That heritage of peaceful protest was very much on the mind of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who on Oct. 17 extended his order allowing the protests.
“Civil disobedience is an appropriate form of expression, provided that it is peaceful, non-violent and lawful,” Reed said in a prepared statement. “As of today, the Occupy Atlanta protesters continue to assemble in a peaceful, non-violent fashion in Robert W. Woodruff Park. Therefore, I have extended the Executive Order allowing Occupy Atlanta to remain in Woodruff Park after the park closes. This Executive Order is effective through the adjournment of the next Atlanta City Council meeting on November 7, 2011.”
But Reed and the protesters have been bristling at each other in recent days, especially over a weekend hip-hop concert. Late Tuesday, Reed revoked the earlier executive order, citing concerns about “public safety and escalating tension in the park. Throughout the day on Tuesday, one protester openly walked through the park with an AK-47 assault rifle,” Reed said in a statement posted on the city website.
“There were increasingly dangerous situations in Woodruff Park which contributed to Mayor Reed's decision,” the statement said. "Occupy Atlanta protesters attempted to hold an unsanctioned concert over the weekend without providing the required security or crowd control plan. Last week, demonstrators inserted wire hangers into electrical sockets to create additional power sources. A number of other fire code violations occurred, including repeated storage of propane heaters and twenty-gallon propane tanks inside tents. With more than 75 tents located in a confined area, these actions demonstrated a persistent and dangerous disregard for public safety.”
Police entered the park at about 11:50 p.m. Tuesday and the arrests began an hour later. All of the protesters were to appear in court Wednesday. Among those arrested was state Sen. Vincent Fort, his office confirmed by telephone on Wednesday.
Reed said he had enlisted the help of clergy to mediate with the protesters before the arrests but that effort failed when demonstrators shouted down the churchmen and refused to meet until Thursday.
Occupy Atlanta disputed that explanation. In a statement on its website, the demonstrators stated that the failure of the mediation was “predetermined.”
“We reiterate that the mayor has misrepresented our peaceful protest," the demonstrators argued. “There was no violence on Saturday. The Atlanta Hip Hop Day festival promoters had a permit which was pulled by the city at the last minute. The mayor has misrepresented both Occupy Atlanta and the facts at every possible turn.”
Photo: Atlanta police arrest one of dozens of Occupy Atlanta protesters in Woodruff Park early Wednesday morning. Credit: Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal-Constitution