The Camp Falls
October 27, 2011 § 10 Comments
It’s would probably be cliché if I were to say I’m heart broken after last nights events, but after spending the last 12 hours since I left the park trying to wrap my head around what happened, there isn’t any other way to describe my feelings. It’s hard to put in words how it feels to watch 52 people forced to their stomach and arrested, arms yanked and twisted before any attempt to comply or resist could be made, while being watched by hundreds from the sidewalks no more then 30 feet away.
I’ve followed the Occupy Atlanta movement from day one, attending their first few general assemblies, watched the first occupiers put their tents down, and stood by as the last people in the park were dragged out. In that short period of time, a small group of individuals inspired by those protesting on wallstreet turned into a full fledged movement several hundred strong, carrying out daily marches and showing no signs of slowing down.
I do not have a completely romanticized view of the protesters, and recognize how easy it could be to dismiss them. I even found myself doing it several times during my visits to the park. Some of the protesters were incredibly angry, but couldn’t really tell you why. Others seemed to be more caught up in the “fun” of all the activity, and were hard to take seriously. If you keep talking, and keep looking, there are those amongst the protesters that were not “hippies” or simply there because they have nothing better to do. The core group of these people were passionate, intelligent, diligent and willing to be arrested for their beliefs. It’s because of this contrast between the true protesters and the so called “tourists” that I found myself constantly switching between humbled respect and contempt of those I spoke to while in the park.
Before last night, my last visit left me disgusted. I fully intended on writing a scathing piece on my feelings about the dynamic at the park between the occupiers, the police, and the homeless, and how the growing tensions were pushing everyone to the breaking point. The protesters were paranoid, and there was no longer the friendly smiles and conversations like there were the first few days of the occupation. I knew quite a few of these people by name, many more by face, and had spoken to all of them at one point or another, and even I felt like an outsider.
The police had gone from being receptive and candid to authoritarian and overly aggressive in only a matter of days. My first several visits, I spoke with several officers at length about the protest and their feelings about it. Now, they barked for you to keep moving, blocked roads and access any where they could or simply glared at you as they strolled by. It was at this point that it felt as if it was no longer the 99% vs the 1%, but “Us vs Them”.
All of these thoughts were running through my head as I sped down GA 400 last night, hoping to make it to the park before the police moved in. There had been threats of raids since the first weekend of the occupation, and I had started to become slightly cynical towards the paranoid call to arms that seemed to be raised every night. As I drove towards the city, my phone exploded with texts of massive police activity, riot squads, mounted police, and multiple prison transports moving towards the park. There was no question that this was the real thing.
I arrived at Woodruff just as the last order to vacate the park was broadcast over the police PA system. Hundreds of people lined Peachtree, some chanting in support of those refusing to leave, others simply there to see it for themselves. 52 people remained in the park, among them were State Senator Vincent Fort, and the well known philanthropist Joe Beasley. Most were sitting in a circle and holding onto each other, lit up by police high intensity lights usually used for crime scene investigation while a few stood off to the side, waiting to be arrested. A police helicopter buzzed low over head, casting a pale ghostly light across the park as it flew past.
Within minutes of the police announcement for the occupiers to leave the park, around a dozen mounted police began moving down Peachtree Street. Another group of about 75 officers began to move in to the park, all equiped with surgical gloves, eye protection, and zip ties. As the cops marched towards the seated protesters, many on the sidewalks shouted insults and cries of “shame”. Several cops laughed the crowd off, most attempted to be a stoic as possible, while a few were visibly bothered by what they were witnessing. One by one, the protesters were set upon by 3-4 officers, forcibly pushed to the ground and zip tied, before being dragged off to the makeshift booking center the Atlanta Police Dept. had set up on the scene.
I slowly started to make my way around the park towards the SWAT and Police command centers when the riot police began moving it. The protesters on the streets had completely blocked Peachtree, and had even begun moving tents from the park into the streets while chanting “Occupy the Streets!”. Several times during the arrests the crowd threatened to break down the barricades, and the riot cops were an obvious response to the increased tension. The problem lies in the fact that cops were the aggressive instigators during this entire affair. The show of force was an obvious intimidation tactic that backfired completely, as it usually does. These people had no intentions of going anywhere, and all the city did was provide them a target for their anger.
Watching riot police march down the center of the city I’ve spent the last 11 years of my life in, banging their batons on their chest plates as they walked sent shivers down my spine. This was something I had only witnessed on the news, in a little blurb about a far off land and an oppressive dictator. These were images I had seen in text books as a child, as teachers described the valent efforts of protesters fighting for the power of the people. Yet there we all were, the police, the occupiers, the media, all dutifully following the script that had been written years before.
As I write this, those who were arrested last night are back on the street, and most have already begun heading back to the park. I believe this movement has gone past the point of being quashed by a single police action, but if last night is any indication of the next levels of force, I fear Atlanta hasn’t seen the worst of it yet.