Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Atlanta: The Eviction

I heard the news before I left for work:  Mayor Kasim Reed withdrew his offer to let the Occupy Atlanta protesters remain in Woodruff Park until November 7th.  Apparently there was an unsanctioned hip-hop concert this weekend that pissed the mayor off, causing him to revoke his prior peace offering.  Everyone knew they would be kicked out, but no one knew when.

Work happened to be ungodly slow and I managed to get cut early.  I woo-hooed for a bit and then pulled out my computer as soon as I got home.  I checked a few news sites for any word on the eviction of the protesters and saw an update stating that it was going down at that moment.  I quickly grabbed my camera and hopped in my car.  As I pulled around a corner heading towards the park, two motorcycle cops blew a red light and blocked off the road in front of me.  “Oh shit,” I thought.  “This might get a little nuts.”

I quickly drove home and swapped my car for my bike, huffing and puffing my way back downtown.  Cops had the roads leading to the park blocked off, so I had to cut down a side street, sneak behind the library, and go around another block before I found myself next to the action.  I later saw kids simply walking past the roadblocks, but my sneaky entrance made the whole experience seem more “real.”

Cops on horseback lined the street to my left.  A row of cars and a line of cops blocked the street to my right.  The park was still void of all police presence, but everyone was hustling to get off the grass and onto the sidewalk.  People grabbed their opened tents, holding them above their heads, and ran them out of the park.  Sometimes they put them on the sidewalk.  A few people simply set them up in the street.

“Occupy the street!  Occupy the Street!”

As people hustled back and forth, I spoke with a couple people standing next to me.  They had been camping in the park, but wanted no part of the arrests.  Their adrenalin was obviously running high, as they spoke in quick spurts, constantly swinging their heads back and forth.

“I heard that they are blocking off the streets so we can’t get out.  They’re going to arrest every person here!” a blonde girl with full braces told me.  “I know!  It’s totally illegal.”

Oh great, that’s some kickass news. 

People gathered in the street in front of me, beating five-gallon buckets and chanting cliché protest chants.

“Hell no, we won’t go!”

The noise of the protesters was soon drowned out by a loud, familiar sound from the sky.  Helicopters are nothing new around here.  Living so close to the highway will frequently subject us to the sound of news choppers covering whatever mess is occurring on the highway at that given point.  However, this wasn’t the sound of a news chopper.  As the searchlight started illuminating the crowd in front of me, I realized it to be a police helicopter.  A police helicopter always makes me think of the scene in Terminator II where they break into the office to destroy the chip.  It’s become a bit of an ominous symbol to me.

It was a little overwhelming.  Cop cars flashing blue lights in the distance in every direction, helicopter circling overheard, people chanting and screaming at the police, and there I stand in the middle without a definite proclivity towards either side.  People nervously looked back and forth as no one knew exactly what would happen.  We have all seen videos of cops beating the hell out of people with big sticks and shooting tear gas into large crowds.  There was a large police presence surrounding us and nobody knew exactly what they were capable of.

“Here we go!” someone yelled. 

Our attention shifted towards the north side of the park as a large amount of police officers made their entrance.  It’s a little strange seeing such a large number of cops working in such a well-practiced fashion.  These guys have guns and can do whatever they want.  The only people that can stop them from doing something are themselves.  Any normal person can’t do anything to a cop besides spit in his face and chuck a rock in his direction.  They have guns, handcuffs, mace, and clubs.  Not really a fair fight.  And all of these untouchable people have all of their shit together and their coming towards you.  It’s a little intimidating.

The remaining stragglers that decided not to get arrested quickly funneled out of the park.  A large crowd gathered on the sidewalk next to the park, so I crossed the street to join them.  Everyone stood along police barricades under careful watch of at least twenty officers standing in a line behind the makeshift fence.  More officers walked along the street, keeping a close eye on everybody.  At one point, a man in the front of the crowd started screaming and tried to jump the barricade.  He was tossed to the ground like a child and eventually dragged out of the crowd by a friend of his as he screamed, “Citizen’s arrest!” while pointing towards a cop that had just arrested one of the protesters.  Apparently the cop had been a little to rough with the kid, and this guy wanted to arrest the cop for performing a bad arrest.

The protesters sat in the grass in a circle, calmly waiting for their turn to have a zip-tie fastened around their wrists.  The police took their time, dragging out the arrests for over a half hour.  At one point, the circle of protesters became more of a shoddily collected bunch of people as the police grabbed people at random like a game of duck-duck-goose.  The protesters quickly scooted along the ground and rejoined each other, locking arms.

As each protester was arrested, they were first treated to a knee to the back, or possibly a leg depending on the amount of kicking, then they were either led, dragged, or carried out of the park depending on how much they refused to use their own power.  While being taken away, the arrestee was showered with applause and words of encouragement from the crowd.  It seemed like all of the protesters standing on the sidewalk envied the people getting arrested for their dedication to their cause (whatever that may be).  They knew someone was going to have to get arrested tonight, and they were glad it didn’t have to be them.

Throughout the arrests, the police on horseback slowly started walking down the street, closing the gap between the police and the crowd.  Other than that, the police pretty much held their ground throughout their seizure of the park.  Once they were set in their positions, there was no need for movement.  They had planned everything down to the smallest detail and it was going incredibly smooth.  Nobody rushed the police barricade (besides that one guy), no one threw anything at the cops, no one acted out in any way besides yelling, “Fuck you pigs!” or the one guy I saw walking past the horsecops while giving them the Nazi salute.

Which brings me to my next point:  The protesters were acting like the police were kicking them out of their own home.  They were angry and befuddled about the police presence.  They seemed to be thinking they were doing nothing wrong and the police presence was completely unwarranted.  I even heard talk on the radio today that people want to impeach Mayor Reed over this whole thing, which was voiced again tonight as people yelled, “Kick out Kasim!” 

I spoke with a member of the Atlanta Fire Department as I approached the scene and asked him his thoughts.  He said that he doesn’t really get what the big deal is.  The city kicks out the bums that try to sleep in that park every night at eleven o’clock.  He didn’t see why the protesters felt they shouldn’t be subjected to the same laws and punishments.  I think that’s a really good point.  I know I’ve already given my general viewpoints on this subject and will refrain from repeating myself.  You can yell about being treated poorly and how angry you are after the city does something unfair and uncalled for.  But you can’t yell about being mistreated when they’re treating you according to universal, well-established rules and laws.

A big question I had while watching this, as I’ve also had during my entire experience with the Occupy Atlanta movement, is how does this further the cause?  How does this accomplish the goals?  I asked a guy that mistook me for a friend of his on the sidewalk if he thought the arrests would help or hinder the movement.  Without a pause, and with a giant smile, he said, “Oh, it definitely helps.  This is good.”

“We’ll be right back here in the morning!” a girl standing next to him said.

I smiled and waved as they walked away, but a question still lingered in my head:  How?  How does this help?  The protests have already been the lead story on the news all day long.  It’s not like a few arrests will gather more news coverage.  That being said, the news channels were all over the place.  Every station had a camera and a truck positioned for live coverage of the arrests, so maybe I was wrong about that.  Even if that aspect is true, more coverage can only be good if there is a general message to convey.  Now that you have people’s attention, how do you use it?

That’s the big question that might sink this movement.  And I think that’s a shame, because there is a lot of potential with these Occupy protests.  They’re absolutely everywhere right now.  If they had something to focus all this attention, all these people, there would be no end to what they could do.  A civil uprising has to start somewhere, and this is a great spark for that fire.  But unless they figure out what they want, nothing will be changed except a lot of people will lose their jobs for sitting in a park for three weeks (I know, one of the things they’re protesting is the shitty economy and that they don’t have jobs, but some of them work).

As a quick show of force towards the end of the arrests, a group of about sixteen police officers in full riot gear marched towards the center of the park.  They stopped about ten yards from the focal point of the arrests and simply made everyone aware that they are fully padded and have very big sticks that they will use to beat the piss out of you if you make any large moves.  That was it.  After about fifteen minutes they retreated to the back of the park and probably shared bubble gum and talked about the World Series. 

The streets started to clear out.  A section of the protesters started marching down the street.  I followed them because I assumed this would be where the mace would come out and I could get some good pictures.  But they simply avoided the police barricades and went off towards the court house.  I turned around and left them because I didn’t feel like following a bunch of makeshift drums into an area of town that I know to be absolutely packed with bums.  Not that the bums would pose any danger, I just didn’t want to talk to any of them.  I know the basic gist of what they have to say and I don’t need to hear it again. 

I turned back towards the park and overheard a couple cops talking to each other.  They slowly strolled down the sidewalk, joking to each other and smiling.  “They have nowhere to go,” one of them said to the other as the plastic drums started fading down the street.

I walked down the street, glancing into the park and at the sidewalks.  Everything was filled with trash.  Abandoned tents littered the park and filled the sidewalks.  It looked like the street about a mile down the road by all the bums, except worse. 

As I walked past the horsecops, I noticed an abundance of shit and piss covering the street and couldn’t help but feel it mimicked something.  The fact that the protesters had to leave the park?  No.  The appearance of entering a police-state in a democratic society?  No.  The protest itself and how it will probably historically equate itself to these droppings?  No.  I think the thing I will compare with these piles of shit and piss will be the crowd throughout the arrests.  Many treated it like a parade.  People lined the streets, obviously without any ties to the protests, simply to watch people get arrested.  Now, I have a hard time differentiating myself from these people since I don’t consider myself a supporter of the protests, but I can justify my presence by saying this:  I was there to document what happened.  This may only be partially true (I mean, I want to see someone get maced just as bad as the next guy).  But at least I walked around and took the events seriously.  I constantly heard people joking about what was happening.  At one point, I saw a couple take a picture of themselves in the same way someone might do at the Grand Canyon when they couldn’t find anyone to help them take the picture.  It was a show to a lot of people.  To others it was just as important as the Civil Rights movement.

This juxtaposition was disarming.  I seemed to be one of the only people standing in the middle ground between feverish support of the cause and ridiculing the participants.  I can’t say if this separation of viewpoints was so vast at more historically important protests, but it really jumped out at me.  In the age of youtube and Tivo where our attention spans are shortened to the point of alarm, I don’t think many people are able to care about a movement like this.  And likewise, it seems the movement can’t find a main theme to focus upon.

I made one last lap around the park, looking for a cop to talk to.  While none of them were particularly busy, most of them just stood around looking bored, I didn’t find one that looked friendly enough to engage in light conversation.  However, as I turned a corner I heard an officer say this:

“I’m just trying to figure out where that motherfucker with the AK went.”

I saw this guy on the news earlier in the day.  Apparently, he’s trying to make a statement about the 1st and 2nd amendments, but I don’t care.  Walking around downtown Atlanta with a loaded AK-47 strapped to your back is not a good thing.  If anything, it might put the idea into someone else’s head who might be a little less rational.  We don’t need irrational guys with automatic weapons just walking around the city anymore than we already do.

“Wait, that guy’s here?” I said to the cop.

“Yeah, he’s right over there.”

“Oh shit.  Well, I guess I’ll go this way.”  I walked away from the AK, but changed my mind and tried to find the guy.  Eventually I found him casually talking to a photographer as if he was simply showing off a new puppy.  I don’t know what an AK-47 has to do with people camping in a park to protest anything and everything, but I guess it makes just as much sense as getting arrested because you don’t want to move your tent from an illegal campsite.

And now, with it all over, the remaining question is, “What happens now?”  Where do they go from here?  I don’t think this will be the end of the Occupy Atlanta protests, but I do think this is a big blow to them.  I hope they take this as an opportunity to legitimize themselves a bit.  Find a permanent location and start making moves that can have some lasting repercussions.  Focus your attention to specific causes and use methods that can actually affect something.  They have the attention of the city right now, and it would be a shame to let it all go to waste.  Get out of a city park, but remain in the public eye.  Drop the blind idealism and get realistic about your demands.  And use this opportunity to get out of the park and take a fucking shower.

1 comment:

  1. If these morons spent half as much time trying to find a job and better themselves as they do whining about how "the rich" are holding them back they'd have no need to be camping out in public parks. Get realistic about their "demands"? How about "get over" your "demands". These lowlifes are in no position to be demanding a damn thing. Maybe they should give some consideration to earning their way instead of demanding it. Wealth envy is an ugly, ugly thing no matter where and when it manifests itself. The fact thay we have the misfortune of having a community organizer/troublemaker in the White House encouraging this type of disgusting behavior in no way justifies it.