Birmingham police planning response, reaching out to protest’s organizers

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — With one day until protesters are anticipated at a major traffic intersection in Birmingham, police are trying to plan for any outcome.

Highway 280 near The Summit can be very congested on Friday afternoons year round. Around the holidays, though, traffic there is even more congested.

Birmingham Police will be on standby, but they won’t be wearing riot gear, according to Birmingham police spokesman Lt. Sean Edwards. He says they respect the right to protest and they’re hoping to negotiate with the protest leadership, but there are safety concerns if the road is blocked and they are prepared to take action.

Protests in cities around the nation have had different outcomes, so it’s difficult to predict what will happen Friday.

Posts on the Black Lives Matter- Birmingham Facebook page call for demonstrators to show up at the Summit entrance traffic light on Highway 280 at 3 p.m. Friday and at 4:30 pm at the Riverchase Galleria food court.

One of the three wrecks WIAT 42 crews spotted on Thursday on Highway 280 between Homewood and the Interstate 459 interchange was less than a block from the entrance to The Summit.

WIAT 42 caught up with several drivers near that entrance who think a large turnout could really complicate things for commuters and shoppers.

“I think that if there were going to be a lot of people here at the corner it’ll disrupt traffic,” said Tom Brannon.

Birmingham Police are coordinating with the Alabama Department of Public Safety, the Alabama Department of Transportation and city engineers hoping to plan for any possibility.

They’ve also looked at protests in other cities and how departments there responded, according to Edwards.

“Some of the things that they put in place and what was effective, what was not effective. Yeah, there were some arrests made, there were some people who did not show up in certain places,” said Edwards.

He says the goal of the department will be not to make any arrests, if possible.

“We would like for this to be a peaceful protest as we’ve often had in the past, so that that’s kind of the plan, but we are prepared. If there’s a time when we can’t really get cooperation from the organization, we have to move to the next level as it relates to maintaining peace and order,” said Edwards.

The closest school to The Summit, Vestavia Hills’ Cahaba Heights Elementary School will be closing early at 2 p.m. on Friday. Extended Day activities are also canceled because of the traffic concerns.

“The school itself is on a two-lane residential street so anything out of the ordinary has the potential to cause traffic congestion in that area,” said Whit McGhee, spokesperson for Vestavia Hills City Schools.

Edwards says Birmingham Police want the protest leadership/organizer to contact them at 205-704-3664 to negotiate a compromise that will keep everyone safe.

Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 News

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