Friday, November 4, 2011

Occupy Atlanta: The Way I Experienced The Raid

Last week I had the itch to go camping due to the cooler fall weather and came up with the bright idea to go down to Woodruff Park here in Atlanta, set up a tent, and camp out with the Occupy Atlanta protesters. I wasn't going to join or support their cause, whatever that is,  I was going to take advantage of the rare opportunity to camp out in a major city park since it's normally not allowed. As somebody that appreciates the city and just observing people -- well -- it seemed like a great idea.

So last Tuesday afternoon I gathered the basics that I would need for a short one night stay. I wrestled with the idea of taking my nicer cameras with me. So many people seemed to appreciate my first blog post about the protesters, and some of them had encouraged me to go back and shoot more. I knew there would be the very real possibility of getting mugged in the earlier morning hours if I did take my nice gear though. I thought it almost would have been like me asking for it, although I couldn't imagine not taking a camera with me at all. So I decided to take a old Canon AE-1 that I bought a few years back for next to nothing, a couple of lenses, and a couple rolls of film for it. I had never even shot a single roll of film through the camera.

I threw my things in a backpack, grabbed my sleeping bag and tent, and "hiked" from my apartment to the local MARTA station. After catching the train south to Five Points Station I "hiked" in to Woodruff Park and set up camp.

Click on images to view them larger.

My beautiful campsite. That's my tent in the bottom right, closest to the camera. It really was kinda beautiful down there if you enjoy a city skyline view. When I laid in my tent and looked out the back window you saw those buildings towering above you. It was nice. I took this with shot with my iPhone.

After I got settled in good, I posted to my Facebook where I was and what I was doing. Within a few minutes I had a few friends contacting me, concerned for my safety. One of those friends (who has asked to not be named) had the inside scoop on what was going to go down there that night. She basically messaged me and told me that I needed to leave soon, and that I did not want to be there later that night.

I really hated to leave at that point. I knew that the police were going to go in soon and force the protesters to leave, and that it wouldn't be a good scene when they did, but I really thought that it would not be for another day or so. I was wrong. The protesters had pretty much given Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed the finger earlier in the day when he told them that they were welcome to protest there at the park, but that they had to follow the laws in place that stated when public parks could be used. The law states that they had to leave each night by 11:00 and come back the next morning when the park reopened. The protesters had no interest in compromising at all. They had decided it was "their park" as evidenced by them marching around the park that night beating on buckets and chanting "Who"s Park? Our Park!" over and over again. They even decided to rename the park. It was no longer Woodruff Park. It was now "Troy Davis Park". Troy Davis was a convicted cop killer that was recently executed here in Georgia. Just in case you're wondering who that is.

Some of my friends thought it was foolish of me to stay, but I wanted to see how things played out that night, and really hoped for a peaceful evening camping out. I wanted to just talk to some of the protesters. Do some photos here and there -- and lie in my tent and chill out. I was doing just that when a fight broke out right outside my tent. The two guys even fell into the side of my tent with me in it while they were fighting. That was not a relaxing experience at all. After that I overheard three different conversations that were all in anger -- people just trying to start fights. I heard all of this while just laying down in my tent. There were some very angry and irrational people there.

Rather than just going on about it in writing, I'm gonna once again share with you the photos and video I managed to capture while there that night. What you see here was all captured with one roll of Ilford Delta 3200 film pushed to 6400 ISO in processing (this is pushing the camera and film to the limit given that I was shooting with only street lights after dark) and my iPhone 4.

I guess you would call this a pep rally that the protesters had just after they had marched down Peachtree Street: 

This is Tony. He's 44 years old and had been out there in the park participating in the protest for all but four days of it. He was laid off nine weeks prior to me talking with him and had been homeless for five weeks. He had sent his wife and kid back to South Carolina to live with his in laws until he found work again he told me. He's a master carpenter and also has a culinary arts degree. I asked him what his hope or purpose behind being there was and he told me he was there to fight for four things, being: 1.) Homelessness "There are 24,000 homeless people in this city and only eight to ten thousand beds in the homeless shelters." 2.) Unnecessary War 3.) College Tuition "College tuition is going up when there are no jobs for the grads in their fields when they finish." 4.) "The American government sponsoring child labor by encouraging major corporations to outsource labor overseas and then not taxing those same corporations as much as they should when they bring those goods back into America to be sold." Tony told me that he had been charged and convicted of aggravated assault and served seven years in prison for it.
This is "T Money" and he is 35 years old. I asked what his hope or purpose was by being there and he said: "To get the word out and make sure it gets to different scenes that need redemption for our whole generation. Make sure that we have an effect on some things. No more procrastination from our government. The judges, senators, Congress -- they have been pimping us so long, and it's time for us to pimp them."

This is Craig Hickerson. He is 34 and is a spoken word artist from Washington DC. He told me that he had been in Atlanta ten years too long. I asked why he had not left city if he didn't like it and he went into a long story. I could not get it all, but the basics was that he had stayed because he was charged with a felony and should have been charged with a federal crime. He told me he was charged with terroristic threats on a police officer but was never convicted. He then went on to tell me that he had been charged with fourteen felonies in the past ten years, but was convicted of none of them. I ask what all he had been charged with and he said, "Aggravated assault, aggravated stalking... I can't even remember them all." He spoke of how clueless the police and legal system was down here. So I assume that he was staying in Atlanta because he felt that he could get away with more here? I don't know,  he was the one that said all this,  not sure why though.  He did ask that I take note of it though. I asked what his hope or purpose behind being there was and he said, "Make the people realize they can not go up against a system or enemy that they know nothing about and expect to win. I want to educate people on politics and the law. 75% of the population know nothing about it."  He was a very friendly guy by the way,  I was a little shocked and disappointed when he started bragging about his criminal record.

This is an example of "The Peoples Mic" that I wrote about in my first blog post on the protesters. Basically it is done here in Atlanta to pay homage to the Wall Street protesters in NYC where it is illegal for them to use a megaphone. So what you have is a leader, or just a random person that feels like getting up and saying something, and a group of people that blindly repeat what that person is saying without thinking of what they are saying first -- like robots. It really doesn't make sense that they are concerned about following any kind of megaphone laws in NYC, Atlanta, or anywhere else since the protesters as a whole are obviously not concerned about following other laws while protesting: 

This guy was just slowly walking around the park with this sign and was dressed very nicely -- he looked as if he had no shortage of money. I asked him what his hope or purpose behind being there was and he told me, "I work for Wall Street and that's about all I can say." as he walked away.

This is Officer Fanning. He was one of many police officers  around the perimeter of the park that night.  I approached him and the group of officers he was with and explained that I was just down there to camp for the night and sorta document things while I was there. I made it clear that I was not one of the protesters and that I had no interest in going to jail for being there. They assured me that everybody would have ample time to get out of the park before anybody got arrested. Their advice to me was "Stay and have fun.",  so I did.  I asked him what his thoughts were about the protest and he said that he was not allowed to comment on it. All the police officers I spoke with that night were very friendly and did not deserve being called some of the things I heard protesters openly calling them. 

Pun intended? I'm thinking maybe a unsatisfied wife made this one. The Occupy Wall Street protest is apparently about voicing ANY frustrations you might have -- hardships of every kind -- or a lack of hardship.
Some people customized their tents for the event.
It was good to see that the protesters were okay with people expressing their religious beliefs.  There was also a "Spirituality and Wellness Tent" that nobody was in or around when I was there.
This sign is a joke -- a straight up lie from the protesters. I saw and smelled it with my own eyes and nose respectfully. Matter of fact, one of the people I have shown a portrait of on this post excused themselves to "go to the bathroom" as I was talking with them.  After stepping in their tent for a few minutes they came back out reeking of reefer. They went in there to maintain their high, not relieve themselves.   
I feel that you always need to question statistics like this and not take them at face value. According to this sign at least 3 million people die a month due to hunger -- 36 million people a year worldwide. I thought this seemed a bit high so I looked into it. Sadly it turns out that about 25,000 people per day die from starvation according to the United Nations and Less than what this sign states, but that's still one person every three and a half seconds. Isn't that horrifying enough to think about without exaggerating things as this sign does? Just the thought of one person per day dying from hunger is heartbreaking. Why make something that is already horrible sound worse? 

Things were more organized than they were when I went down there the first time.  They had set up this "Medic" tent and had a Spiritual & Wellness tent set up. Nobody was in or around that one, but they had one.  What really caught my attention about what you see here is the sign in the upper right corner. It reads, "We The People ...ARE PISSED! Our Grandparents gave us a living wage, 40 hr work week, healthcare, vacations, ETC... What will you leave your kids?" Well,  if I ever have any, I hope to leave my kids with with a better work ethic and not the ignorant sense of self entitlement that whoever thought up this sign had. Not sure about their grandparents, but both my grandfathers were farmers. The idea of a forty hour work week would have been laughable to both of them. They were both self-employed and didn't take any vacations that I recall. They both believed in paying cash for everything and that debt was bad. They lived below their means and always had plenty of cash around should a emergency come up. And I'm pretty sure that they didn't expect anything to be handed to them on a silver platter like the mastermind behind this sign does.  My grandparents would be humiliated if I or any of their other grandchildren were to ever think up some sign like this and then display it with pride.

This is Jeff Hullinger of 11 Alive News reporting live about how quiet things are there at the park, and then a video I did right after he recorded the first clip of the the protesters in the park living it up, singing and making a racket. You can hear a "mic check" and warning about the imminent police raid on the park from one of the protesters too. Then I go back to Jeff Hullinger reporting about how quiet things were, then back to the protesters loudly chanting. I mean no disrespect to Jeff Hullinger. It was really quiet where they were reporting from, and there had been choppers that had been hovering overhead nonstop that just went away all of a sudden. My point behind editing these clips together like this is to show that what you see on the news, and the way things really are may be two very different things, and the reporter, innocently, may not even be aware of it: 

Jeff Hullinger of 11 Alive News and his cameraman were nice enough to pause for a second and let me get this shot of them. 

Just more of at least 200 hundred Atlanta Police Officers that would end up showing up that night in a show of force to the protesters. Like I mentioned above, every one of them I spoke to was very friendly and was just there doing their job. A job that we the tax payers were paying for -- and a job in that particular case that shouldn't,  or wouldn't have been needed if the protesters would have simply been willing to compromise a little and do what the mayor had asked of them.  Hats off to the APD for keeping their cool with some of the protesters that were just trying to provoke them  -- hoping for them to do something wrong. 

This guy walked up to me and proudly stated that he had done what he had come there to do. I asked him what that was and he said something along the lines of "I came to make it clear that I will not be forced from this park and that there will be some dead police bodies outside that fence if they try to force me out." I asked him to follow me over to the street lights where I could get a portrait of him and write down his name and statement. The police made the public announcement over the speakers there in the park that everybody there was in violation of the law seconds after I took this shot. I went to record it and when I turned back around he was gone. I spotted him again later though...

This is the recording / video I got seconds after I took the above shot. It's the Atlanta Police Department letting the Occupy Atlanta protesters know that they had worn out their welcome:

At this point my tent was still set up, but I had everything ready to break down so I could get out in a hurry. I went up to an Officer Dupart and explain to him what I was doing and he assured me that I had a little more time, and then went on to say that all the protesters could have stayed if they would have just followed the park hours. I mentioned to him that I didn't think some of the protesters would go peacefully and he responded with, "They have not seen the mobile field force yet." I asked him what that was and he explained that it would be about 200 officers that were coming that would simply just remove the protesters from the park one by one. He told me that if they didn't want to walk that they would simply just pick them up and carry them out, and that's what they did.

Not too long after that, I believe just about every Atlanta Police Officer on the payroll showed up at the park. They surrounded the park on motorcycles, horses, and even had the chopper hovering overhead shining the night sun down on the park. At that point I quickly broke down my tent -- there was quite a few protesters that started doing the same. I guess they had decided it was not "their park" anymore. After that I approached another officer and once again explained that I was there documenting, not protesting. I asked how much longer I could safely stay and he pointed at some open gates and said, "once those gates close you are under arrest if you're still in here." I took that as my cue to get outside those gates.

Here is some of the other protesters that decided that they were not interested in going to jail and got out of the park as directed. Notice the gentleman that comes into the frame at the twenty-nine second mark waving the flag.  He's the same guy that told me he was going to have police bodies lined up if they tried to remove him from the park. I guess he had a change of heart. Later that night I noticed where his flag had been abandoned, he was nowhere to be found. He apparently is a true man of honor -- a man of his word: 

 Why is it that the protesters expect their rights to be respected when they openly show no respect for the laws and the police officers that help protect those rights?

He wouldn't need a lawyer if he would just get out of the park rather than standing there and making his lame statement with his sign while his mouth is taped shut. It did make for a great photo opportunity though! Took this one with my iPhone.

These two were there making it clear that they had no intentions of leaving the park until they were arrested. The man on the left was in a wheelchair. And I'm pretty sure that is Tony next to him. Tony is the first person I featured in this post.

"Hey! Let go of da homie ear! That's police brutality!" Here is about 20 minutes of video that I've edited down to five minutes and forty seconds for your viewing pleasure. It covers the protesters effort to quickly remove all the tents and such from the park without breaking them down. It covers them all getting in their little circle, insisting on being arrested for being there. It covers the announcement over the park PA that those remaining in the park are under arrest.  It covers a guy in a red hat that wanted to be a leader I guess, and then the police officer that had had enough of him and pointed him out to be carried away, and then them doing just that as he mouthed off to them, "Come get me! Yeah, come get me me!". They did, and I was happy to see it. At the 3:45 mark you can see where I thought the protesters outside the fence were about to start rioting. It covers some of the profane and rude things the protesters were saying to the police officers that were just doing their jobs. It covers the protesters cheering for other protesters as they get either dragged or carried out of the park. It covers just how irrational and childish the protesters could be. I never in my life thought I would see people just sit down and basically beg to be taken to jail. Everyone of the protesters that went to jail that night deserved it in every way:

This is Malcolm, and I spoke to him outside the fence after all the protesters inside the park had been arrested. He is a 23 year old welding student at Georgia Piedmont Technical College that's is from Atlanta. I asked him what his hope or purpose behind being there was and he said, "There's a lot of inequality in the world, and this is just a stepping stone to waking up to the injustices that are in the world." I asked him why he was wearing a mask and he said that there was no real reason for it. I kinda just looked at him after he said this, he then told me he was wearing it because he did not want to inhale pepper gas. 1.) It's amazing what you can get people to say sometimes just by looking at them and letting silence hang in the air. 2.) Malcolm obviously has never had pepper gas sprayed around him, because he would realize that the bandanna would do him little good when it came to breathing it. 3.) I saw other people there with mask over their faces like Malcolm. Were they concerned about breathing pepper gas too, or did they just not totally believe in what they were "fighting for" and felt some shame in being there? This is a shot I got with my iPhone 

This is all the tents, sleeping bags and such that got piled up on the sidewalk on Peachtree Street after the protesters quickly removed them from the park without even breaking them down. "Who's park? Our Park!" remember?

This guy was taking his job seriously. I asked if he could give me a few minutes so I could do a portrait of him and he said that I was welcome to catch a shot, but that he needed to stay alert to what was going on. Apparently he and several others were part of the "COPWATCH". They were there to fight against police brutality. My thoughts: There would be no need for a COPWATCH if they had just done what the mayor was asking them to do, and there would have been no need for a few hundred cops to show up down there that night on the tax payers dime. All because guys like this have nothing better to do with their time then camp out in a park just waiting for the police to do something wrong after their fellow protesters have blatantly disrespected the police officers and resisted arrest.

Jeff Hullinger's closing clip of the night. He & his cameraman were both glad it was over, and so was I:

"I'm tired of feeling hopeless." and "WANT CHANGE? PRAY & TRUST in GOD!!!"  This was on the "What's Your Story" section of fence that I documented in my pervious blog post on the protest. This time it was totally filled with stories and comments, and out of all of it the "Want Change? Pray & Trust in God" may as well have been a flashing neon light when I walked up to it. I then noticed the "I'm tried of feeling helpless." written just above it. Both of them were obviously written by two different people, and both are very powerful statements -- but together -- just think about how one relates to the other if you believe in God. And then think about how hopeless some people must feel in today's economy if they have no God.

So I've been down to Woodruff Park twice now, and both times I've been pretty disappointed with what I saw out of the protesters as a whole. The fact that a bunch of them purely decided that they were not going to obey the law and chose to be arrested instead blows my mind. What point were they trying to make by going to jail for their cause? They are protesting over the lack of jobs and such in the economy right now -- yet their actions may very likely prevent them from getting jobs that would otherwise be offered to them in the future due to the criminal record they will have now. Why? Because they chose to be taken to jail to make their point rather than fighting for their cause in a intelligent way.

As I look back on it all now, I wish I would have asked each of the protesters I interviewed a couple of questions that are far more important than just "What is your hope and purpose by being here?" I wish I would have asked them what they actually expect our government to do about the issues and concerns they have -- and most importantly -- I wish I would have asked what THEY were personally doing to make things better for themselves and others out there. What are they doing to make their own lives better? Are they doing anything to make the world a better place? I'm not talking about camping out in some park for days on end -- whining about how evil our government and corporations are -- all while holding some lame protest sign. I'm talking about actual charitable acts. Regularly giving your time or money to a charity or cause you believe in. Going out of your way to do something nice for others while expecting nothing in return for it. Random acts of kindness. It's little things like that have the potential to really make the world a better place, and most of us have no excuse for not doing a better job of it -- myself included.

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." -John F. Kennedy


Don said...

Way damn better reporting and imagery than found on the lamestreempress crappola sites, my friend. Nicely done all around.

Anonymous said...

Very impressive. Right on point.

Keith Taylor Photography said...

Thanks y'all! I appreciate you taking the time to check it out and comment on it.

Jason said...

right on dude, good stuff. Prepare a few more questions and go down there again or go check out another occupy in a nearby city like chattanooga or something! Keep up the good work, carry on!

Keith Taylor Photography said...

Thanks for checking it out Jason. At this point I think I've spent enough time looking into the Occupy Wall Street movement. I do have every intention of covering a Tea Party protest when there is one near Atlanta again. I'm gonna be just as fair with them, but do not intend on cutting them any slack either.