On Saturday night, an estimated 150 Occupy Atlanta supporters and protesters, some of whom had prepared to re-occupy Woodruff Park, chanted and marched in the middle of Peachtree Street and on sidewalks after Atlanta police enforced the city's 11 p.m. park curfew.
Tensions escalated. In marched about 100 APD officers in full riot gear and on horseback. Hovering overhead was a police helicopter. One protester was arrested for felony aggravated assault after he pushed a motorcycle an officer had driven within inches of a protester. Nineteen others — including a CL intern photographer and two college journalists — were arrested on misdemeanor charges of obstructing traffic. A young man who apparently stumbled into the confusion after exiting a nearby restaurant was among them. Protesters have accused police officers of using excessive force. The following night, five more protesters were arrested trying to re-occupy the park.
We don't know what proper crowd control looks like. Hell, maybe police are following best practices. Nor have we led an occupation movement. But this is not working for either side. We need an endgame from all sides.
Occupy Atlanta should take a page from its own playbook. On Nov. 1, the leaderless group crashed the open-air foreclosure sale that takes place once a month on the steps of the Fulton County courthouse and delayed the process by drowning out banks' sales of foreclosed homes and properties.
It was brilliant. Intown liberals and Republican suburbanites are both struggling to pay their mortgages. Foreclosure is an issue that resonates with people from all political ideologies — and, with enough grassroots support, could bring change at the Gold Dome. And drawing attention to the archaic, insensitive foreclosure sales on the courthouse steps — which seem more fitting for the 1700s than the 21st century — could rally greater support. It's not being carried away in handcuffs, but real progress often happens in unexciting ways.
Meanwhile, the city's strategy of enforcing a curfew with overwhelming force is not working on at least two fronts: it plays right into the desire of a small subset of the protestors to paint theirs as a new civil rights movement instead of an income inequality movement by setting up familiar cop vs. protestor imagery. It also puts the hundreds of overworked, maxed-out-on-overtime APD officers in helicopters, riot gear and on horseback in easily inflammable situations. No one will be surprised if things get out of hand should this carry on.
We understand why this is happening. For Occupy Atlanta, tempting someone to arrest you — and then making him or her arrest you — makes for great TV news fodder. For the city, dropping your metaphorical 12-pounder on the table suggests the rule of law shall not be compromised no matter the protestors' intent. But cops and protesters alike are playing to the worst stereotypes of each side. It's time for both sides to grow up. There are ways to enact change without faces being shoved in the pavement.
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