Several hundred protesters have been occupying Woodruff Park in Atlanta since Friday, in the latest outgrowth of a national movement that began last month with Occupy Wall Street.
Several protest representatives met with Atlanta Police Chief George Turner on Monday and were told that the police planned to enforce ordinances against camping and being in a public park after 11 p.m.
The protesters released a statement on their Web site in which they vowed to remain in the park for as long as possible. We call on all supporters of the Occupy Together movement and defenders of the First Amendment to come down to Woodruff Park before 11 p.m. and stay as long as you can to forestall police action, it read. We encourage you to bring a camcorder or camera to document the peaceful nature of our protest and any police action.
City Will Give Protesters Time to Leave Park
No arrests had been made by Tuesday morning. A spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed told WSB-TV on Monday night that the city would give the protesters time to leave the park voluntarily before sending the police, but she did not specify how much time.
The protesters have made it clear that they will not leave voluntarily. Their statement discussed the city ordinances directly:
We believe that the American political process is so corrupted by the influx of lobbyists, 'free speech' corporate cash and politicians beholden to both that it has failed us completely. Our only option left is to occupy public spaces in order to assert our right to freely assemble and to redress our grievances, rights guaranteed to us by the First Amendment. Exerting that right has ironically become an act of civil disobedience, a fact which points out exactly what the problem really is. We owe no obedience to laws which abridge our constitutional rights.
The last line was a clear reference to the argument Martin Luther King Jr. made in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963: There are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
The Occupy Wall Street protests, which are now in their fifth week, have inspired similar protests in numerous cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. Police arrested about 100 Occupy Boston protesters on Tuesday when they tried to expand the occupation site from Dewey Square to the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
This was typical of the police response in many cities. Officials have tended to allow the protesters to occupy their initial sites, such as Dewey Square in Boston or Zuccotti Park in New York, but they have made arrests when the protesters moved elsewhere.