Occupy Atlanta protesters gather in Woodruff Park, in Atlanta, Tuesday. The protest is one of many being held across the country recently in support of the ongoing demonstration in New York.
ATLANTA — Defiant demonstrators are vowing to stay in a downtown park as part of the Occupy Atlanta movement, creating a political quandary for city officials and police who want them to leave.
The protests are part of a growing national movement opposing Wall Street in New York. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., attended the protests in a show of solidarity last week, and President Obama has not opposed the demonstrations.
That poses a dilemma for Mayor Kasim Reed, one of Obama’s top supporters in the South, as he balances maintaining law and order in the city with a potential public relations problem. The Rev. Timothy McDonald, an activist and pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, said it would be a mistake for the mayor to arrest the demonstrators.
“If you want to hurt the movement, you let them stay,” McDonald said. “If you want to give fire to it, you arrest them.”
McDonald, who was active in the civil rights movement, said it was often the strategy then to get arrested because it helped the cause. McDonald said the Occupy Atlanta protesters would get similar results.
“They would tweet it and Facebook it to the max,” McDonald said. “It gives momentum to their movement.”
The group’s leaders said in a statement Monday night that they’ve met with city officials and were warned that police intend to enforce Atlanta’s ordinances against camping and being in the park overnight. About a dozen protesters were gathered in Woodruff Park on Tuesday morning. There have been no reports of any arrests.
“We continue to give the protesters every opportunity to leave the park peacefully, but clearly we are watching the situation closely,” said Sonji Jacobs, spokeswoman for Reed.
Occupy Atlanta protesters were scheduled to march to the Atlanta headquarters of Bank of America at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Reed, who was in Chicago earlier this week, returned to Atlanta on Tuesday to participate in a regional transportation forum, but will also spend the day pondering how to handle the lingering demonstrators. He weighs what to do after about 50 protesters in Boston were arrested Monday night when they ignored warnings to move from a downtown greenway near where they have been camped out for more than a week, according to police.
Several hundred protesters were arrested in New York more than a week ago after police said they ignored warnings to stay in place. There was no word on any arrests during Tuesday’s protest in New York.
The park closes to the public at 11 p.m. under city law. The code is intended to keep homeless people from sleeping in parks but has now ensnared the otherwise peaceful protesters. Political analyst and social critic Goldie Taylor said arresting the demonstrators runs counter to what the country and the city is supposed to stand for.
“It is downright ironic that in the birthplace of the civil rights movement ... that a new generation of students has taken up a new and not so dissimilar cause and that there are laws on the books that would prevent them from doing that in a peaceful way,” Taylor said.
On the other hand, Reed must juggle his role as the city’s chief law enforcement officer with his relationship with the president.
“He is going to act in a spirit of fairness ... while lending his support to young people as they raise their voices,” Taylor said. “The president expects him to manage his city and manage it well. Does he endanger his relationship with the White House or certain members of Congress because of how he’s forced to act here in the city? I really don’t think so. If there is a political quandary to be faced, it will be with the citizens of Atlanta who support the Occupy Atlanta movement.”