Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Wednesday he doesn't regret giving Occupy Atlanta the freedom to protest in Woodruff Park these past 15 days.
But in explaining why he ordered the Atlanta Police Department to swarm on the Downtown green space late Tuesday night and clear the park of everyone, he said things were getting dangerously out of hand and law and order had to be restored.
Police arrested 52 people during the overnight hours. WXIA 11 Alive News reported Wednesday 26 of them were homeless and that all but two of them were to be released on signature bonds. The two who were not released had outstanding warrants for their arrest.
It all came to a head on Saturday, when a group not initially affiliated with the Occupy Atlanta movement, said it would host a hip-hop concert at Woodruff Park.
City officials had given that group conditional permit approval, pending final review of its security plans. The group refused and put the concert on anyway.
What's more, they had a generator and protesters were bringing in their own equipment to generate electricity and propane tanks, which officials said risked a safety hazard.
"On Saturday I felt things had changed and that things were deteriorating," Reed said late Wednesday morning.
Adding to his concern was a man who called himself "Porch" who was walking around Woodruff Park Tuesday with an AK-47 slung across his back.
"Seeing a gentleman in Woodruff Park with an AK-47 assault rifle continued my feeling that this was deteriorating," Reed said. "This was getting worse and worse and that my felling was that some — not all — of the people associated with Occupy, were moving towards escalation."
He said he did not want to put the city at risk should anything go wrong.
But one legal expert said unless "Porch" exhibited signs of being a visible danger to himself or others, the mayor's argument doesn't hold water.
Georgia's open carry laws allow people who are licensed to carry guns and knives to have them on their person so long as they meet certain criteria.
The city could be liable if "Porch" showed signs of instability and officials did nothing to prevent it, said Jessica D. Gabel, an assistant professor of law at Georgia State University's College of Law.
As for the unauthorized concert, police officials could have shut down the concert specifically, rather than the entire protest, Gabel said, especially since the protesters had been in the park for half a month.
"He's cloaking his decision in the mystique of protecting health, public safety and welfare," Gabel said. "It gives him a free out to do what what they did."