APD Denies Targeting Organizers of Police Brutality, Occupy Protests
With additional reporting by Matthew Charles Cardinale, News Editor
(APN) ATLANTA — Progressive activists are concerned about what they see as Atlanta Police singling out and cracking down on social justice organizers, as protests against state-sanctioned, racist police violence sweep the nation. They cite three incidents over the last week and a half, including two arrests of organizers Tim Franzen and Elle Lucier, and the pulling-over of activist Joel Solow.
“There is not a strategy to target anyone,” APD said in response to a list of questions provided by APN. “A person’s behavior dictates whether or not they will come in contact with an Atlanta Police Officer. We respect the right of our citizens to peaceably assemble and will continue to allow them to do so unless property is destroyed or lives are endangered.”
[This threshold–that property or lives have to be at stake–will likely be tested tonight, Saturday, December 06, 2014, when activists intend to occupy Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta. Mayor Kasim Reed has said he intends to order the arrests of anyone in the park after hours, signaling a likely repeat of the Occupy Atlanta protests, where Reed sent dozens of police in helicopters, in riot gear, on horses, et cetera.]
First, on Saturday, November 29, 2014, a group using the hashtag #ShutItDownATL organized a die-in at the Atlantic Station mixed-use complex in Atlanta’s West Midtown neighborhood.
It was one in a string of protests sparked by the failure of a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, to indict Darren Wilson, the former police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager.
Aurielle “Elle” Lucier, who has played a prominent role in organizing many local demonstrations in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder, was among several people who laid down in a courtyard at Atlantic Station. But when police converged on them moments later, she was the only one arrested.
As far as why she was targeted and not other protesters, the APD tells APN that it was a decision made by private security guards at Atlantic Station. According to APD, Atlantic Station security had asked Lucier to leave, and when she did not do so, APD responded to a trespassing claim by Atlantic Station.
“Ms. Lucier was not targeted but was arrested for trespassing on private property. Had she left the scene when asked to do so by the Atlantic Station Security Director, she would not have been arrested,” APD said.
Her supporters rallied outside of Atlanta Detention Center and Fulton County Jail [she was initially held in the former and then transferred], prompting her release at 3 a.m.
In a second incident, on Thursday, December 04, 2014, police arrested Timothy Franzen, an organizer with American Friends Service Committee and Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, as he left a low-wage worker rally in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood.
The rally was organized by ATL Raise Up, and united home care workers, fast food workers, and airport workers in demanding a minimum wage of fifteen dollars per hour and the right to unionize. About one hundred people gathered at a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) store on Joseph Lowery Boulevard and marched to a nearby Dollar Store.
After the rally, Franzen left from the KFC in his car. He drove only a few blocks before police pulled him over. They took him into custody, claiming they had outstanding warrants for his arrest. They would not specify what the warrants were for.
Franzen was not involved in organizing the labor rally, nor has he been involved in planning the protests against racist police brutality.
But Franzen is a high profile organizer, and did participate in and support these protests.
“Sergeant Bower, and I, informed Captain Gourley, Assisting Commander of Zone 1 about Mr. Franzen’s outstanding warrants. At that time Captain Gourley stated the demonstration was peaceful and Mr. Franzen was not an immediate threat. Captain Gourley suggested we allow Mr. Franzen and the crowd to complete their demonstration, wait for him to be isolated, and then make the arrest. This recommendation was based on officer safety, as the crowd was very large and we didn’t want to create a scene or let the demonstration spiral out of control,” the police report, obtained by APN, states.
“As the [Franzen’s] vehicle started to travel south… a traffic stop was conducted… he was informed the reason of the traffic stop and that he had a warrant for his arrest. ACIC [Atlanta Criminal Information Center] was contacted and the warrant issues by the Fulton County Sherriff’s [sic] officer, under warrant (#14CR002768,) was confirmed. I, Officer D. Alonso, personally informed Mr. Franzen about the two outstanding warrants,” the report states.
The police report does not state how APD came to know about any outstanding warrants, although APD said in an email to APN that “officers observed a male waving people into the street and encouraging the demonstrators to walk in the roadway. Officers determined that the male was Tim Franzen and a check of his name revealed two outstanding warrants for his arrest.”
“It is important to note that as law enforcement officers we have a duty to act when we have knowledge that a person is wanted by the courts. Even though the warrants were not issued by our agency we are still compelled to act on that knowledge as a matter of law under Title 17 of Georgia’s Criminal Procedure Laws. Please check with the courts pertaining to the warrants,” APD wrote.
APD did not immediately respond to follow-up questions regarding the matter.
“This is a gestating movement and they don’t want it to grow,” Jim Chambers, a friend of Franzen, told Atlanta Progressive News. “They are identifying leaders and taking them out individually.”
Chambers spoke to APN on Thursday night, December 04, 2014, at a rally in protest of the more recent failure to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City police officer who choked to death Eric Garner, a Black man who was accused of selling loose cigarettes.
In response to the New York City grand jury’s decision, rallies were organized through social media all over the country using the hashtag #ICan’tBreath, a reference to Garner’s last words before he died.
Dozens of people gathered at the downtown mall, Underground Atlanta, with signs, banners, and drums. Chambers made an announcement that Franzen was being held at the Atlanta Detention Center, prompting the group to march to the jail and demand his release.
Authorities initially refused to bond Franzen, saying they intended to hold him over the weekend. Then they told Franzen’s partner, Shabnam Bashiri, they were transferring him to the jail’s general population and holding him indefinitely.
Bashiri told APN one of the warrants was supposedly for a failure to appear in court on a “blocking the roadway” charge incurred at a protest in May 2014.
But Franzen was issued a ticket for that charge, which he paid, precluding the need to appear in court.
The other warrant may be related to a home liberation that Occupy Our Homes organized in 2012. Bashiri said Franzen called the City of Atlanta two weeks ago to determine the status of his criminal trespassing charge, and was told he was clear.
“They don’t have anything on him,” Bashiri said. “It sounds like they’re using an administrative loophole to keep him in jail. They see someone who they can lock up for thirty days as a way of discouraging other people from protesting. ”
In a third incident of concern, police also stopped Joel Solow, an organizer with ATL Raise Up, after another rally at KFC. ATL Raise Up recently staged a Black Friday protest alongside groups that have organized Ferguson-related demonstrations. Solow also participated in the Atlantic Station die-in.
When police pulled him over immediately after the morning rally–in a manner similar to the post-protest pulling-over of Franzen–they claimed his tag was expired even though he was driving a rental car. The police took his license, but eventually returned it and let Solow go after informing him that the tag was, of course, not expired.
APD’s Public Affairs division said they could not immediately locate any information related to this incident, as no arrest was made. However, Solow should file a complaint with the Office of Professional Standards at APD, including the officer’s name, if available, if he feels he was wrongfully detained, they said.