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Monday, February 10, 2014

Police arrest 24 Moral Monday activists during 'Stand Your Ground' protest

Protesters packed into Senator Stones office this afternoon calling for the states Stand Your Ground legislation to be repealed.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Protesters packed into state Sen. Jesse Stone's office this afternoon and called for the repeal of Georgia's "Stand Your Ground" legislation.
Two-dozen Moral Monday activists were arrested today after they packed into the office of state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, to protest Georgia's "Stand Your Ground" law. The grassroots movement, 10 members of which were arrested two weeks ago, for protesting inside Gov. Nathan Deal's office, called for lawmakers to repeal the controversial law.

Around 4 p.m., several dozen protesters and reporters crammed into Stone's offices in the Coverdell Legislative Office Building across the street from the Gold Dome. Moral Monday Georgia co-organizer Tim Franzen asked Stone's legislative assistant Phyllis Walker to see if the GOP lawmaker, chairman of the Georgia Senate's Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, would meet with the demonstrators about a bill introduced by state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, to repeal the state's "Stand Your Ground" law.

Walker said Stone offered to meet with two protesters without cameras - the figure was decided by the number of chairs he had in his office, the lawmaker says - to discuss their concerns. After Moral Monday Georgia activists declined his offer, they began peacefully demonstrating, holding signs, and singing protest songs in hopes of waiting out the legislator. Five minutes later, more than a half-dozen Georgia State Patrol troopers entered the office and gave protesters the chance to leave the premises or risk being placed under arrest.

Once some demonstrators and reporters left Stone's offices, Capitol police handcuffed 24 Moral Monday Georgia activists. They were then led into an empty conference room before being escorted out of the building into an Atlanta Police paddywagon.

Moral Monday Georgia co-organizer Tim Franzen speaks to Legislative Assistant Phyllis Walker while Senator Stone sat inside his office. The protesters refused Stones offer to meet with only two activists and without any cameras. They wanted him to come and speak with the entire group in front of the media.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Moral Monday Georgia co-organizer Tim Franzen speaks to Legislative Assistant Phyllis Walker while Senator Stone sat inside his office. The protesters refused Stone's offer to meet with only two activists and without any cameras. They wanted him to come and speak with the entire group in front of the media.

Stone, who said he was unaware of the planned protest, spoke to a few reporters outside his office once the activists were cleared from the room. He called Moral Monday Georgia's protest "disrespectful" because they failed to schedule an appointment, forcing him to miss a personal meeting. He says he also gave them the opportunity to meet in an adjacent conference room, which they declined.

"It's one thing to have access to your legislators and leaders, but it's totally different to come in and, instead of talking with him, just try to make a publicity point," Stone says. "That's what all this was about."

Fort, who did not attend today's Moral Monday Georgia protest, tells CL that Stone's recent treatment of his bill at last week's committee hearing was "so disrespectful." The Atlanta lawmaker, who did not get a hearing in 2013 for a similar bill, made a personal point of privilege to ask for a "full and fair" hearing on his legislation. He says Stone started the committee hearing late last Wednesday and not everyone had the chance to speak on the issue. "It was not full nor fair," he says.

Stone thinks the committee hearing went well and raised good questions about the state's current law. The Waynesboro Republican, who's heard from roughly equal amount of Stand Your Ground supporters and opponents, claims he tried to be respectful and acknowledged that not all witnesses had the chance to speak on the matter.

"I'm open-minded at this point in time," Stone says. "There's a lot of questions that need answering. We haven't heard from legislative counsel, all of the authorities in this area of the law. This is not something you do flippantly. You don't do an about face when you're one of 25 states that has similar laws. It's something that needs to be thought through."

Fort says he hasn't heard back in six days about a rescheduled hearing date. Meanwhile, Stone says he's still awaiting more information following the hearing. He didn't rule out additional opportunities for the bill to be further discussed, though he recently wrote to his constituents that action on the issue is unlikely.

The GOP lawmaker said he thought it would be "hard to make up [his] mind [about the legislation] with this kind of interference." Given the Moral Monday Georgia "circus" in his office, he's not sure that their "polarizing" push will help the movement's cause.

A GSP spokesperson tells CL that the 24 men and women arrested were charged in violation of a state law that prohibits people from "willfully and knowingly to enter or to remain" in General Assembly members' offices with "with intent to disrupt the orderly conduct of official business," among other things.

Officers enter Senator Stone's office after protesters refuse to leave with out being able to meet with Senator Stone.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Georgia State Patrol troopers enter state Sen. Jesse Stone's office after protesters refuse to leave without being able to meet with the lawmaker.

An officer tells protesters they will be arrested if they do not leave the office immediately.
  • Joeff Davis
  • An officer tells protesters they will be arrested if they do not leave the office immediately.

A protester hands over his cell phone to a supporter shortly before being arrested.
  • Joeff Davis
  • A protester hands over his cell phone to a supporter shortly before being arrested.

Rev. Tim McDonald one of the organizers of the protest, continues to sing while he is arrested.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Rev. Tim McDonald, one of the protest's organizers, continues to sing while he is arrested.

Misty Novitch is pointed towards a conference room where demonstrators were taken after being arrested.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Misty Novitch is pointed towards a conference room where demonstrators were taken after being arrested.

Longtime civil rights activist Joe Beasley was among those arrested.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Longtime civil rights activist Joe Beasley was among those arrested.

Senator Stone speaks to the media following the arrests in his office. He said he was surprised by the protest had not decided if he would support the repeal of Stand Your Ground, legislation but acknowledged that he did not know of any Republicans who supported its repeal.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Senator Stone speaks to the media following the arrests in his office. He said he was surprised by the protest, but remained undecided about potentially supporting the repeal of Georgia's "Stand Your Ground" law.

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