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.
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.
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