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|Mayor Reed: 'Occupy' arrests made for public safety|
|by Ryan Watkins|
|November 02, 2011 10:48|
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was forced to answer public questions over his handling of the recent Occupy Atlanta arrests at a town hall-style meeting at Saint Mark United Methodist Church last night.
Reed was on hand to discuss the 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar, alongside the Atlanta Police Department's LGBT Advisory Board and APD head Chief George Turner. But several of the open floor questions centered on the mayor's decision to revoke an executive order allowing Occupy Atlanta protesters to remain in the city's Woodruff Park beyond an 11 p.m. deadline and the subsequent arrests of the protesters who refused to comply in the early morning hours of Oct. 26.
Some 53 protesters were arrested, according to the city.
“We did not use mace, we did not use tear gas,” Reed said. “We did not have any complaints regarding excessive force. In fact, the way Atlanta handled its protesters contrasted with the way other people have handled their protesters across the country.”
Since the arrests, Occupy Atlanta protesters have taken refuge at the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter, run by Taskforce for the Homeless, but have vowed to return to Woodruff Park, or Troy Davis Park as it's called amongst Occupiers, on Nov. 5.
When asked by a town hall participant if the Atlanta Police Department's show of force was unwarranted because of the peaceful nature of the protest, Reed said the size of the operation was necessary to avoid escalating possible clashes with protesters.
Reed compared Atlanta's response to similar crackdowns in other cities, most notably in Oakland, Ca., where police used tear gas, rubber bullets and other crowd-dispersing measures to remove Occupy protesters, causing injury to some demonstrators, including Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen.
“We had police helicopters, we had mounted patrol units because we wanted to handle our situation peacefully. You do not ramp up in a crisis. That's what other cities have done. That's what you saw in Oakland. It's better to start out with a significant amount of force. If you start out with a force that is too small and something goes wrong, you then send in people in an expedited fashion. That's the absolute wrong way to do it.
“We tried to execute the arrests in a manner that I think it consistent with Atlanta's tradition. I completely understand the folks that disagree with me, but I don't get do-overs,” Reed said.
Reed said the decision to remove the protesters from the park was largely based on public safety concerns.
“If something had happened under my executive order, the liability for the city, because it was under my executive order, would have been significant,” he said.
“The people who were in Woodruff Park were there after I extended an executive order because I wanted to show my respect for the frustration they were experiencing and for Atlanta's role in the civil rights movement. So that's why I gave an executive order so they could be in the park lawfully. As mayor, I have the ability to extend park hours. I did that out of respect for the protesters, trying to be sensitive to their message,” Reed added.
Reed said a hip-hop concert scheduled for Oct. 22 – 23 in the park lacked a proper security plan and he was concerned about possible violence after Atlanta rappers Ludacris and Jermaine Dupree were to be “honored” at the festival but would not attend the event. The concert was eventually shut down.
A protester, who was not affiliated with Occupy Atlanta, walking the park on Oct. 25 with an AK-47 assault rifle escalated police response, Reed said.
“I went to the park, looked at it myself and was concerned,” Reed said. “For me, that was a very high risk situation. Some people say that there was no risk there. I don't agree with that.”
Top photo: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (by Dyana Bagby)
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