Dozens of demonstrators breached the site of a proposed law enforcement training centre in a forested area in Atlanta’s outskirts, where construction equipment was set ablaze and bricks, rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails were tossed and fired at officers, according to police.
Atlanta Police Department officials said 35 people were detained after what the agency has described as a “coordinated attack” on Sunday (5 March), with a group of “violent agitators” using “the cover of a peaceful protest” to hijack demonstrations and “destroy property and attack officers”.
Twenty-three people face felony state domestic terrorism charges.
Surveillance footage released by police shows large pieces of heavy equipment in flames during the second day of a weeklong series of “Stop Cop City” actions to protest construction of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
“Actions such as this will not be tolerated,” Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said during a briefing on Sunday. “When you attack law enforcement officers, when you damage equipment, you are breaking the law.”
The $90m project would bulldoze roughly 85 acres of the South River Forest with support from the Atlanta Police Foundation, a nonprofit organisation with a board filled with representatives from Atlanta power brokers like Chick-Fil-A and Delta Airlines. The plans have faced widespread opposition from a coalition of Atlanta-area community groups, environmental activists and national justice advocates.
Activists reported police firing tear gas and “kettling” dozens of people attending the South River Music Festival in the Weelaunee Forest, the Muscogee (Creek) name for the area.
“Indiscriminate police violence tonight against Stop Cop City festival-goers. Police seem to be lashing out at anyone present at the music festival,” according to a statement from Atlanta Solidarity Fund. “Music is not a crime, protest is not a crime. The first amendment doesn’t go away when a single person sets a fire.”
Growing tensions between police and opponents surrounding the project have resulted in dozens of arrests and more than a dozen other charges of domestic terrorism, though analysts have found that “none of those arrested and slapped with terrorism charges are accused of seriously injuring anyone” and most of the charges are based on the equivalent of misdemeanor trespassing.
Environmental advocates demand that the woods be preserved, while others have warned that the development of the site – which would include mock urban training sets – would lead to further militarisation of police in a region under scrutiny for high-profile acts of police violence, with five prisons, six landfills, and declining public housing and healthcare facilities.
On 18 January, officers fatally shot Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Tera during one of at least two “clearing operations” at the site; police claim Terán fired at officers unprovoked, while family members and activists say that newly released footage from the aftermath has raised even more questions about the official accounts.
“As we continue to respect peaceful protest, we will also continue to ensure safety in our communities,” he said. “We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice.”
On 9 March, activists in Atlanta and across the US will join national demonstrations against police violence following the recent killings of Tera, Tyre Nichols in Memphis, “and all others lost and impacted by police violence and terror.”
Atlanta police “have a multi-layered strategy that includes reaction and arrest” as law enforcement agencies prepare for demonstrations.
“When you throw commercial-grade fireworks, when you throw Molotov cocktails, large rocks, a number of items at officers, your only intent is to harm, and the charges are going to show that,” Chief Schierbaum said on Sunday.