Occupy Atlanta | Rainbow PUSH leader calls for ouster of Mayor Reed

Joe Beasley, the southern regional director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, on Tuesday called on Atlantans to oust Mayor Kasim Reed from office because of what he calls the mayor’s overreaction in his standoff with protesters occupying Woodruff Park.

Reed announced he would revoke an executive order that has allowed them to stay in the park more than two weeks, and protesters held a news conference Monday night to take on Reed and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner.

“I’m just really appalled to see this massive police presence, so we’re calling on the people of Atlanta to recall Mayor Reed for malfeasance in office because he is abusing the taxpayers’ money by having this massive show of force when it’s not needed,” Beasley said Tuesday.

Beasley said he does not believe that the mayor’s plan to have members of the clergy talk with the protesters will bring an end to the occupation of the park.

Reed “must not be a Christian, because if he was, he would know if the clergy come out here, they would have to be on the side of the people that’s occupying this because they’re talking about justice and talking about equity,” Beasley said. “If the clergy comes out and if they’re familiar with the scripture, and they are, then they would have to be on the side of the people and against the mayor.”

Beasley added that he thinks the reason Reed “is so frustrated and so angry is that he finally recognizes that he’s not in charge of Atlanta. The corporate interest is in charge of Atlanta, so the bankers, I’m sure, and Central Atlanta Progress and the Chamber of Commerce have said, ‘this is unseemly, so you get these people out of the park.'”

"We have to let the mayor know he didn't get into office by himself," Former City Councilman Derrick Boazman said. He added, "(We have) a black police chief who sounds like Bull Connor." Connor was the public safety commissioner in Birmingham during the civil rights movement.

Atlanta police recruits, dressed in white T-shirts and blue pants, began erecting barricades around the park Monday afternoon after Reed said he would at some point void his order allowing the protesters to remain in the park until Nov. 7. Reed did not give a time when the order would be revoked. He did say, though, that it would be at his choosing and that the city's Police and Fire departments would be ready to clear the downtown park at his command.

Citing a dispute that arose Saturday when Occupy Atlanta allowed an unauthorized hip-hop show to go on, Reed said the concert created a dangerous situation and he added that some people associated with the movement "were on a clear path to escalation."

Responding to the comments Reed made at a tense news conference, Occupy Atlanta sent out a statement Monday evening that the mayor and other city officials had "fabricated danger where none exists."

Reed said during his news conference that an increased police presence at the park cost the city $100,000 just for Saturday. The presence remained strong Monday, including a SWAT team. A police helicopter swooped overhead at one point.

Referring to the $100,000 figure Reed gave, Occupy Atlanta said in its statement that the money was "wasted on surrounding our completely peaceful protest."

At about 5:30 p.m. Monday, following Reed's announcement that he planned to halt an occupation of the park that began Oct. 7, large trucks entered the area carrying 3-foot metal fencing for the barricades. The recruits quickly began placing the barricades as protesters shouted and tried to ask questions.

Other Atlanta police officers stood guard, keeping onlookers away to allow the barricades to rise. Police spokesman Carlos Campos said access to the park had not been restricted.

“The park is still open,” he said. “No exits or entrances are blocked at this time.”

Protest organizers responded by handing out papers instructing demonstrators how to continue the occupation -- which began Oct. 7 -- should police move in.

The papers instructed protesters who wished to be arrested to not resist and remain peaceful. It also told them to write a phone number for legal assistance on their arms. Those who did not want to be arrested were told they could go to the Peachtree and Pine homeless shelter to sleep and regroup, or they could stay on the sidewalk and keep moving.

“We will need people to be rested and ready at 6 a.m. to reoccupy the park,” the handout said. “No matter what happens we will be reoccupying at 6 a.m. the day after arrests have been made.”

Reed held out one opportunity to the protesters, saying that he planned to give a group of clergy time to meet with the demonstrators and work out a solution.

If that doesn't happen, "we are going to clear the park," he said.

Occupy Atlanta said in its statement that it would be "happy to speak to anyone who wishes to come to the park to talk to us." But it also said, "As far as we know they have not been among the many clergy who have spoken with us every day."

"We would like to know," it added, "when Mayor Reed has organized so many clergy to come out and speak to the people about their trials, about their hurt, and about who our broken political system really serves."

Reed, who had twice extended the time protesters were allowed to stay in the park, said "the nature of the relationship" has changed.

As the turning point, he cited when the protesters teamed up with organizers of a two-day hip-hip concert without proper security plans or personnel. Reed said the concert, which attracted about 600 people, had been wrongly advertised as featuring rapper Ludacris.

"I spoke with Ludacris," Reed said. "He was never going to the park."

That was dangerous, the mayor said.

“I believe they placed lives at risk this weekend,” Reed said of the demonstrators. “The nature of the relationship has changed.”

Protesters also used an unauthorized generator and put people on top of it to prevent police from removing it, Reed said. The city would have been liable if the machine had caught fire, he said.

Occupy Atlanta, in its statement, said it was "a tailgate-style generator which anyone can buy at Home Depot.

"Apparently the Mayor has not been to a Falcons or University of Georgia football game lately, because every other pickup truck has one next to it," it said.

Reed acknowledged that there were no incidents of violence during the concert. But he said that was because of an expanded police presence that cost the city roughly $100,000 on Saturday alone.

At various points during the news conference, Occupy Atlanta protesters interrupted Reed and accused him of exaggerating the threat. Reed did not respond to their accusations.

“This is my press conference,” he said. “We are in a place where we cannot have a productive dialogue.”

Before Reed opened the news conference, Occupy Atlanta spokesman Tim Franzen said the mayor was treating the demonstrators, rather than underlying ills in Atlanta, as the main problem.

“Focusing on the things that brought us out -- foreclosures, homelessness, joblessness -- would be the best way to get rid of us,” he said.

Despite growing tensions within both camps, things remained calm most of Monday at the park, as people walked dogs and tossed discs.

Relations have not always been smooth between the Occupy Atlanta demonstrators and their neighbors.

Last week, Central Atlanta Progress, an influential business group, said the protest associated with the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City had caused a number of unfortunate byproducts, including damage to the lawn and excessive noise.

“Allowing unpermitted groups to assemble in the park for days and nights on end has undermined the City’s authority and set an uncomfortable precedent,” the group said in a statement last week.

But talk radio host Rob Redding said evicting the protesters would deface Atlanta’s image as an open city. Occupy Atlanta, he said in a statement, “has been helping the city’s less fortunate.”

Staff writers Alexis Stevens and  Steve Visser and photographer Curtis Compton contributed to this article.