Around 11:30 p.m., an estimated two dozen police officers gathered on the downtown park's perimeter while city officials reminded the crowd — which included more than 30 people who'd volunteered to be arrested — about the city's ordinances against urban camping.
Then … nothing happened. After Candace Byrd, Mayor Kasim Reed's chief of staff, spoke with the press, the cops and city officials cleared out. A rumor that the mayor would pay protesters a personal visit circulated through the crowd. Some of the supporters speculated that police were simply waiting for the TV news crews to leave so they could swoop in and make arrests. But, come sunrise, the protesters were still in their tents.
City and police officials are declining to comment on the APD's strategy. But here are a few theories we've heard why cops decided to leave protesters put:
1. Police lost the element of surprise Using social media, the protesters mobilized much faster — and rallied more people — than police expected. At roughly 6 p.m., rumors started spreading on Twitter that police were going to evict Occupy Atlanta and arrest those who refused to leave. Occupiers and their supporters pleaded for others to join them. Local TV stations and reporters caught word. By the time police had set up their operations, they were outnumbered by a very passionate, fired-up crowd — about 200, by our estimate — marching around the park. This seems the likeliest scenario.
2. City Hall officials worried about Atlanta's image After several tragic and embarrassing events over the last several years — the Kathryn Johnston killing, the Atlanta Eagle raid and the most recent barrage of lawsuits for inappropriate searches — the city decided to play it safe. There's also that "City Too Busy Too Hate" reputation. Pepper-spraying young people would earn Atlanta negative headlines — even if the protesters provoked police — and the distinction of joining New York as a city that used brute force against protesters.
3. Last night was a just mind game Police wanted to show protesters the tools at the APD's disposal and its ability to mobilize and set up remote operations. Why? To give young protesters a wake-up call, the message of which was, You can stay if you want, but these men and women dressed in blue uniforms with guns on their hips will arrest you and put you in jail. You'll probably be transported in that bus over there. Real enough for you?
4. Mayor Kasim Reed was part of a failed plot among U.S. mayors to crack down on the movement on the same night According to our favorite rumor, the mayors of cities where Occupy movements have taken root secretly conspired to evict and/or arrest protesters at the same time. The operation was a go until one city — most likely New York — backed down for some unexplained reason. Don't get me wrong, I love conspiracy theories, but this sounds a little far-fetched. First, Boston went ahead and arrested protesters last night. Second, if there was even a possibility that the NYPD was planning to break up that city's protest, you surely would have heard about it. Yet most of the tweets I read discussed the threat of arrest against the Atlanta and Boston movements.
Like we said, our money's on the first theory. Which suggests that the APD is likely to try it again, but with more stealth. Know anything? Send us a line.
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