Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Atlanta Protesters To Be Freed On Signature Bonds

Occupy Atlanta Protesters to be freed on signature bonds

By Mike Morris, Christian Boone and Rhonda Cook
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
12:57 p.m. Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A judge on Wednesday ruled that all 52 people arrested in the Occupy Atlanta protest could be released on signature bonds.

Atlanta Municipal Judge Crystal Gaines set a March 9 arraignment hearing for the protesters, who were being returned to the Atlanta City Jail to be processed and released.

Gaines said that any of the protesters who are homeless could provide an Occupy Atlanta address in signing their bonds.

The protesters were arrested overnight when police cleared Woodruff Park after more than two weeks of protests. The hearings had been scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. but did not get under way until noon.

About two dozen people showed up to support the arrested protesters.

Musa M. Ghanayem, attorney for State Sen. Vincent Fort, who was one of those arrested, said Fort was showing his support for the protesters.

“It’s obvious that there are a lot of problems with the current administration and current issues going on in the city, and a lot of people are unhappy with that and I think that he’s showing his support to his constituents, letting them know that he’s doing everything he can to help change those conditions and to assist the people of Atlanta ... in getting jobs and having a better lifestyle.”

He said he expects Fort to be released on his own recognizance, calling him “a pillar of the community. … I would be shocked if he’s not released on his own recognizance.”

In addition to Ghanayem, lawyers representing the protesters included Robbin Shipp, Mawuli Davis, Marcia Fuller, Shantel Martin, Antavius Weems and David Markus. All are volunteering their services.

Woodruff Park, meanwhile, remained quiet and empty. Atlanta Police spokesman Carlos Campos issued a statement at mid-morning saying that the park was closed and that anyone entering the park would be arrested.

About two dozen Atlanta police officers remained on the perimeter of the park, which was surrounded by 4-foot metal barricades.

There could be renewed activity there, however.

John Reyolds, one of the protest organizers, said there were rumors that the group would attempt to stage an anti-war rally at the park at 5 p.m. And some protesters have said when they're released from jail they'll return to Woodruff Park.

Mayor Kasim Reed told reporters more than 100 officers were involved in the operation to clear the park, adding the protests, which started more than two weeks ago, had cost the city roughly $300,000.

Officers swarmed the park around 12:45 a.m. The arrests were orderly and peaceful, though some of the protesters had to dragged out. By 1:30 a.m. the park had been cleared and by 2 a.m. onlookers and demonstrators who watched from the perimeter had largely dispersed as police maintained a significant presence downtown.

Reed said Monday he wouldn't evict Occupy Atlanta from the park until a group of clergy met with the demonstrators to try to work out a solution.

Reese McCranie, Reed's spokesman, said early Wednesday morning the clergy members tried to engage protesters and were rebuffed. After that the mayor made good on his vow Monday to "clear the park" if no resolution was reached.

"No one's really listening to me," said the Rev. Darrell Elligan, pastor of the True Light Baptist Church, following his meeting late Tuesday afternoon with Occupy Atlanta representatives. Elligan, president of the Atlanta chapter of the Concerned Black Clergy, was among a coalition of 30 faith leaders asked by Reed to meet with the demonstrators, though the pastor said they were not representing the mayor.

An Occupy Atlanta spokeswoman said she didn't believe the clergy were neutral.

"I think [the clergy] were sent here to give the mayor cover," said La'Die Mansfield, who agreed to meet a second time with the clergy Thursday at noon. "Not everyone, but most of them."

In a statement released overnight, Occupy Atlanta alleged that the city's effort to negotiate with them was disengenuous.

"The evidence shows that despite the fact that Mayor Reed claimed that he was sending clergy to speak with Occupy Atlanta in order to find a ‘peaceful solution,' the outcome was already predetermined," the statement said.

"Representatives from the group of clergy arrived at the park and requested a meeting for 5 p.m. That time was not available because of a planned march which was posted in the schedule on Occupy Atlanta's website. Participants in Occupy Atlanta and the representatives of the group of clergy agreed on a meeting time of Thursday at noon at Big Bethel AME Church. However, Atlanta police did not wait for this meeting to take place."

Tim Franzen, a spokesman for Occupy Atlanta, said before his arrest, "The occupation will continue in some shape or form." The group aims to return to Woodruff Park but other options have been explored, he said.

McCranie said the police barricades will remain around the park overnight.

Atlanta police recruits, dressed in white T-shirts and blue pants, first began erecting the barricades Monday afternoon after Reed said he would at some point rescind his order allowing the protesters to remain in the park until Nov. 7. The mayor said an unauthorized hip-hop concert that created a "dangerous situation" was the reason, adding some people associated with the movement "were on a clear path to escalation."

In response, Occupy Atlanta said city officials had "fabricated danger where none exists."

It became clear around 8 p.m. Tuesday that arrests were imminent. Officers blocked off Park Place NE alongside Woodruff Park as about 50 additional officers arrived on the scene.

At 10:45 p.m Tuesday, Franzen told participants who were willing to be arrested to gather in a circle in the middle of the park. He advised those who had been drinking, using drugs or were on probation not to take part and asked demonstrators outside the park to return at 6 a.m.

Franzen said arrangements already had been made to cover the bail of group members who were arrested. The 53 protesters were taken to the Atlanta City Detention Center and charged with violating a city ordinance, a misdemeanor.

Deputy Atlanta Police Chief Calvin Moss announced at 11:52 p.m. that the executive order allowing protesters to stay in the park has been revoked. Protesters were told to leave the park and any belongings left behind would be treated as abandoned property.

Police on motorcycles and horseback circled the perimeter as officers went from tent to tent with flashlights, urging people to leave before a second warning was issued.

The APD's riot squad was on hand but did not participate in the operation.

Some of the protesters waved small American flags as they awaited arrest. Among those handcuffed were State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), former Atlanta city councilman Derrick Boazman and Joe Beasley, the southern regional director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Some people climbed over the barricades to re-enter the park, while others chanted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Mayor Reed has got to go."

Please return for updates.

Staff writer Mike Morris contributed to this article.

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