At least 23 people, including a legal observer, have been charged with domestic terrorism as protests against “Cop City,” the massive police training facility, continue.
At least 23 protesters have been charged with domestic terrorism amid a week of action against the construction of “Cop City” in Atlanta, Georgia, a proposed $90 million police training complex.
Atlanta police detained 35 people and arrested 23 on the night of March 5, they claim, for vandalism against the Cop City construction site and violence towards police. Activists dispute this claim.
While video footage shows a small group torching the construction site and throwing fireworks towards police, according to activists, none of the 35 people detained were detained at the construction site itself. Earlier that day, demonstrators marched, and later attended a live music performance, as part of a larger week of action. Atlanta police detained protesters at these two peaceful events, activists say.
Construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, dubbed “Cop City”, deeply unpopular with residents since its first announcement in June 2021, has been opposed by activists in Atlanta and across the U.S.
The proposed training ground would cut down part of Atlanta’s South River Forest (also called the Welaunee Forest) to build, in part, a mock city for police across the nation to practice repression tactics. Activists have been occupying parts of the forest for over a year, which is where the live music performance on the night of March 5 took place.
Those fighting Cop City are now focused on getting the charges dropped against the 23 who were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. One of those arrested was a legal observer for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Dear Fascists who support random arrests of #StopCopCity Festival-goers as “domestic terrorists”.:
This is green cap of legal observer at #HandsOffDC & nearly every rally where cops may attack. All cops know this. The arrest of LO is your best evidence all arrests were illegal. pic.twitter.com/chv75P5EpY
— ChuckModi (@ChuckModi1) March 8, 2023
Georgia’s domestic terrorism law was passed in 2017 in part as a response to a mass shooting against Black churchgoers in South Carolina by white supremacist Dylann Roof.
The law loosened the definition of “domestic terrorism” from an act intended to kill or injure at least 10 people to any felony intended to “intimidate the civilian population” or “alter, change, or coerce the policy of the government.” Many at the time warned that this would be turned against left-wing protesters, rather than white supremacists.
In February, 11 activists were charged under the domestic terrorism law for throwing bottles and breaking windows.
“The US Department of Justice is the agency that has traditionally brought terrorism-related charges, but thirty-four states since 9/11 have enacted laws that make committing acts of terrorism and/or providing support to terrorists state-level felonies,” Jacobin reported. “Georgia authorities are trumping up property crimes and relatively minor vandalism by Cop City political demonstrators as acts of terrorism. If convicted, the activists could face up to thirty-five years in prison — which in the state of Georgia is a punishment similar to second-degree murder.”
Georgia officials such as Gov. Brian Kemp are doubling down on the domestic terrorism charges. “Domestic terrorism will NOT be tolerated in this state,” Kemp said on March 6. “We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice.”
Activists are contending with the pervasive “outside agitator” allegation, which has dogged social movements against police violence, including the George Floyd protests in 2020. This narrative alleges that those behind such movements are not from the communities that they are protesting in, and are instead being sent in by shadowy or dangerous groups.
All but two of the 23 charged with domestic terrorism are from outside of Georgia. However, activists accuse Atlanta police of strategically arresting only those who are from out of state to bolster their narrative. Police detained 35 people but only arrested 23. Activists allege that the 12 people who weren’t arrested were weeded out because they were from Atlanta.
“Simply because the police have chosen to systematically arrest people from out of state, doesn’t mean that what they’re saying is the truth,” said Reverend Keyanna Jones at an Atlanta interfaith clergy press conference on March 6, following the mass arrests. “I am a daughter of East Atlanta. I still live in East Atlanta. I don’t want Cop City,” Jones continued. “My granny owns a home that she’s been in for almost 50 years in the heart of East Atlanta Village. She does not want Cop City. My neighbor across the street does not want Cop City. The teachers at my daughter’s school do not want Cop City. And we are all from the community.”
The local organization Defend the Atlanta Forest said, “It is not illegal to travel for a protest. It is not illegal to travel for a music festival.”
The Atlanta Police Department claims protestors initiated the violence at the March 5 event, saying, “Officers exercised restraint and used non-lethal enforcement to conduct arrests. … The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm.”
However, in one clip taken in the Welaunee Forest, an officer is heard announcing, “come forward with your hands up or you are going to get shot. I don’t know how else to put it, you’re going to get hit with a bullet.” Activists also claim to have heard police say, “I swear to God I will f-cking kill you” and claim that a state trooper pointed a gun into a children’s bouncy house.
Police also slapped domestic terrorism charges on protesters following unrest in reaction to the police killing of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, an anti-Cop City activist also known as Tortuguita, on Jan. 18.
Police claim Tortuguita fired first at officers, injuring one. However, recently revealed body camera footage strongly suggests that the injured officer was shot, accidentally, by police themselves. “You f-cked your own officer up,” a state trooper is heard mumbling following gunshots. Activists still demand that more footage be released regarding Tortuguita’s murder.
This article is from Peoples Dispatch.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.