ATLANTA (CN) – Members of Occupy Atlanta – including a state senator – claim the city illegally arrested dozens of protesters in enforcing unconstitutional ordinances, to boot protesters from a public park. More than 75 people have been arrested in Atlanta since the protest began Oct. 6.
Fifty-two Occupy Atlanta protesters, who had been occupying Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta, were arrested on Oct. 26, charged with violating the city code’s rules on “large gatherings.” Another 24 were arrested this weekend, according to The Associated Press.
In their federal complaint, Occupy Atlanta and six of its members – including state Sen. Vincent Fort and Joe Beasley, a Baptist church worker who is southern regional director of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition – claim the unconstitutionally vague city code illegally restricts speech and the time, manner and place of assemblies.
Among other things, the city is using Section 110-60(a) of its code to bar the protesters from public parks after 11 p.m., unless they have “a festival or assembly permit for consecutive days,” and are “performing duties not possible during the normal festival or assembly hours.”
The plaintiffs say that Occupy Atlanta is a “small gathering which cannot qualify for any type of permit and does not require any type of permit because an ‘assembly’ is defined as involving more than 75 people and a ‘festival’ involves more than 250 people.”
Occupy Atlanta protesters began gathering in Woodruff Park on Oct. 6. In common with hundreds of similar occupations across the nation, the group says its goal is to “protest and end growing wealth disparity in the United States.”
Some protesters stayed in Woodruff Park past curfew. As in other occupations, members formed committees such as media, legal, anti-racism, and information technology as the protest progressed.
In its first days, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke favorably of the protest. He issued an executive order on Oct. 10, staying enforcement of Section 110-60(a), according to the complaint. The plaintiffs claim Reed extended his order on Oct. 17, allowing Occupy Atlanta to remain in the park until today (Nov. 7), though The Associated Press reported this morning that Reed has revoked his order.
On Oct. 25, Atlanta police announced that protesters who stayed in the park after 11 p.m. would be arrested, and 200 to 300 officers began erecting barricades around the park perimeter to prepare for the arrests, according to the complaint.
Fifty-two protesters were arrested on Oct. 26.
Occupy Atlanta, which filed its complaint on Friday, Oct. 4, said it would resume its protest on Nov. 5.
The plaintiffs want the city law on assemblies enjoined as unconstitutionally vague, and an unconstitutional content-based restriction of speech.
They are represented by Jeffrey Filipovits.
After this weekend’s arrests, the group told the AP it would continue its protests.