Atlanta police reclaimed Woodruff Park early Wednesday morning, arresting 52 protesters after multiple warnings.
Mayor Kasim Reed told reporters more than 100 officers were involved in the operation, adding the Occupy Atlanta 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 be 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.
Occupy Atlanta wasn’t buying the clergy’s professed neutrality.
“I think [the clergy] were sent here to give the mayor cover,” said Lady Mansfield, a spokeswoman for the protesters, who agreed to meet a second time with the clergy Thursday at noon. “Not everyone, but most of them.”
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.”