Cop City protests in Atlanta turn violent


KhOn Sunday, hundreds of protesters set fire to construction vehicles and set off fireworks at police officers outside a public safety training center in southeast Atlanta. The Atlanta Police Department announced that 23 people who threw bricks, rocks and Molotov cocktails at nearby officers were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism.

The clashes were the second day of what activists called a “mass mobilization” that has lasted for a week, protesting the construction of Atlanta’s Public Safety Training Center, a planned 85-acre campus dubbed “Cop City” by opponents. the complex spreads the militarization of the police and harms the environment.

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“We’re afraid because no one asked for this facility to be built,” said activist Kamau Franklin, founder of the social movement builders group that helped organize Stop Town. “This is a paramilitary police installation that will have more than a dozen firing ranges and a Blackhawk helicopter. I see no reason why the Atlanta police would need a Blackhawk helicopter other than to police black people.

Atlanta police surveillance footage captured construction equipment as black-clad protesters entered the cordoned-off construction site before squad cars and armed officers arrived. Protesters were seen throwing large stones, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers. The officers were not injured.

“A group of violent agitators used a peaceful protest against a public safety training center in Atlanta to launch a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers,” the Department of Public Safety said. the police.

Police said they used “restraint and non-lethal force” to arrest the 35 people. According to an update Monday afternoon, 23 of those arrested have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Only two of those arrested are from Georgia; one from Canada and the other from France.

Law enforcement officials are seen near Atlanta, Georgia on February 6, 2023, in the first raid since the death of activist Manuel Teran at the planned site of a police training facility dubbed “Police City” by activists.

Cheney Orr — AFP/Getty Images

Why are protesters against the installation?

Tensions over the proposed police training center have escalated in recent months between law enforcement and protesters. Opponents of the center began organizing for the complex shortly after the Atlanta City Council approved it in 2021. Franklin says the announcement came as a surprise to local residents and that its development process has been largely secret, with limited influence from those directly affected. .

Conservationists want to preserve the 1,000-acre forested area. The planned $90 million center, located in DeKalb County, is being funded primarily by the Atlanta Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing better police training and boosting morale amid the recruitment and retention struggles. Taxpayers will fund about $30 million of the installation cost. The city said it will replace trees cut down during construction and protect more than 200 hectares of land around the facility.

Other activists fear the development of the training ground will allow further militarization of the police force in DeKalb County, which is 55% black. Following the 2020 police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, police practices have been in the spotlight following months of protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Atlanta’s Democratic mayor, Andre Dickens, who is black, said at a news conference in late January that the proposed training center would help address much of the concern about police misconduct. “Our training includes de-escalation training techniques, mental health, community-based policing, crisis intervention training, as well as civil rights history training,” he said. “This training needs space, and this training center provides just that.

According to Police Scorecard, an online database of police violence and racial bias, more than 85% of people arrested by the Atlanta Police Department are black, 48% of the city’s black population. More than 16 thousand law enforcement agencies.

Franklin, who helped organize the movement, said the problem with police in Atlanta is not only a problem of inadequate training, but also a problem of “the militarization of the police to treat certain communities as criminals, especially black, poor, working class.” communities”. He said the police had brought in tanks and armored vehicles to protect the forest, as well as officers with long guns to patrol the area. “I don’t believe it’s about police training at all,” Franklin says. “The only training that will take place is to further criminalize communities of color and continue to prevent movements.”

According to police, on March 4, 2023, a disgruntled group set fire to construction equipment at a proposed public safety training center.  (Atlanta Police Department/AP)

According to police, on March 4, 2023, a disgruntled group set fire to construction equipment at a proposed public safety training center.

Atlanta Police Department/AP

Why protest turned violent

Violent protests over a proposed police training center last erupted in Atlanta on Jan. 21, when a police car was set on fire and windows smashed in downtown buildings following the police killing of 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran. man. a social justice activist protested the proposed site. Police say he opened fire first, wounding a state trooper; activists called for an independent investigation into the shooting.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, declared a state of emergency on Jan. 26 and called in 1,000 National Guard troops amid the tensions at the training center. Some of the people arrested at the scene have previously been charged with domestic terrorism.

The protests planned for this weekend began peacefully on Saturday with a rally, a march through South River Forest and a music and arts festival.

Franklin said he didn’t expect Sunday’s protest to turn violent, but he said officers pepper-sprayed people and threw protesters to the ground during the confrontation. “Some people were even threatened by the police,” he says. “I consider violence. Destruction of property may be something people do not like, but it is not violence. Atlanta police did not immediately return a request for comment.

“I think it was an extreme police action to blow up a music festival and arrest 35 people and charge 23 of them – people who were randomly selected and not necessarily present at the music festival – with acts of domestic terrorism. part of the action,” he added.

Opponents of the police agency say the city of Atlanta should instead reallocate about $30 million in taxpayer funding to other issues, such as affordable housing, affordable health care or program operations, Franklin said.

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