ATLANTA — Police arrested a number of Occupy Atlanta protesters late Saturday after a rally in a city park spilled into the streets and officers converged on the nearby area on motorcycles, horseback and in riot gear.
A crowd of several hundred protesters had gathered at Woodruff Park, the scene of about 50 arrests of demonstrators last month, and set up tents. Organizers had said they planned to stay overnight despite warnings from the mayor and police that anyone there past the 11 p.m. EDT closing would be arrested.
But as 11 p.m. approached, protesters began decamping peacefully. Dozens of officers were on hand, herding protesters away from the park's entrances and installing barricades around it. A police helicopter flew overhead.
While most protesters left the park, a few people stayed behind. And as demonstrators poured onto Peachtree Street and downtown, a police officer on a motorcycle drove into the crowd, sparking a confrontation between officers and protesters that turned tense at times.
Police officers in riot gear and on horseback filled the street, warning protesters to stay on the sidewalk. Many protesters shouted insults at the officers, chanting slogans such as, "Put the pigs back in their sty, we the people occupy." Police made a number of arrests, mostly people who disobeyed orders to stay on the sidewalk. But officers at the scene declined to say how many and for what offenses.
Protesters began camping out in Woodruff Park on Oct. 7. Mayor Kasim Reed initially issued an executive order allowing them to stay overnight, but later revoked it after he said there were increasing security concerns.
Police on Oct. 26 arrested more than 50 people they say were violating a city ordinance by staying in the park after closing.
The protesters returned Saturday night. The crowd swelled during the brisk evening, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson paid an early-evening visit to show his support. He told those gathered that the movement was an extension of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign.
Hours later, though, Occupy Atlanta organizer Latron Price said he was disappointed that the situation grew confrontational.
"As responsible occupiers, we have to step up and try to display an example that the overall agenda is not about confrontation with police," he told the Associated Press. "We need to deal with the banks, we need to deal with home foreclosures, and we need to deal with wealth disparity."
Asked about the exchanges with police, the 37-year-old Atlanta man said, "That has me equally upset because we're losing what we came here to do, which is to protest peacefully."
He said protesters need to regroup and focus on a nonviolent message.
La'die Mansfield, 29, a spokeswoman for the Occupy Atlanta, said the police used "unnecessary force" and stressed that the group would continue to organize and to protest what they see as a system that promotes an unequal distribution of wealth.
"Today is a sad day for us. It's almost like we're seeing a little bit of what happened in Oakland here, not to the extent," she said. "Today was just a reminder of the system that we have, the corrupt system."