Albuquerque Journal

23 charged with terrorism in Atlanta ‘Cop City’ raid

Flaming bottles and rocks were thrown at officers during a Sunday protest where a man, 26, was killed January


ATLANTA — More than 20 people from around the country faced domestic terrorism charges Monday after dozens in black masks attacked the site of a police training center under constructi­on in a wooded area outside Atlanta, where one protester was killed in January.

The area has become the flashpoint of ongoing conflict between authoritie­s and left-leaning protesters.

Flaming bottles and rocks were thrown at officers during a protest Sunday at “Cop City,” where 26-year-old environmen­tal activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, or “Tortuguita,” was shot to death by officers during a raid at a protest camp in January. Police have said that Tortuguita attacked them, a version that other activists have questioned.

Almost all of the 23 people arrested are from states across the U.S., while one is from Canada and another from France, police said Monday.

Like many protesters, Tortuguita was dedicated to preserving the environmen­t, friends and family said, ideals that clashed with Atlanta’s hopes of building a $90 million Atlanta Public Safety Training Center meant to boost preparedne­ss and morale after George Floyd’s death in 2020.

Now, authoritie­s and young people are embroiled in a clash that appears to have little to do with other high-profile conflicts.

Protesters who oppose what detractors call “Cop City” run the gamut from more traditiona­l environmen­talists to young, self-styled anarchists seeking clashes with what they see as an unjust society.

Defend the Atlanta Forest, a social media site used by members of the movement, said Monday on Twitter that those arrested were not violent agitators, “but peaceful concert-goers who were nowhere near the demonstrat­ion.” A representa­tive of a public-relations firm involved in the group’s events said that it could not immediatel­y comment.

After “Tortuguita” was killed, demonstrat­ions spread to downtown Atlanta. A police cruiser was set ablaze, rocks were thrown and fireworks were launched at a skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation. Windows were shattered. The governor declared a state of emergency.

On Sunday, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a midnight news conference that pieces of constructi­on equipment were set on fire in what he called “a coordinate­d attack” at the site for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in DeKalb County.

Surveillan­ce video released by police shows a piece of heavy equipment in flames. It was among several pieces of constructi­on gear destroyed, police said.

Protesters also threw rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police, officials said. In addition, demonstrat­ors tried to blind officers by shining green lasers into their eyes, and used tires and debris to block a road, the Georgia Department of Public Safety said Monday.

Officers used nonlethal enforcemen­t methods to disperse the crowd and make arrests, Schierbaum said, causing “some minor discomfort.”

Along with classrooms and administra­tive buildings, the training center would include a shooting range, a driving course to practice chases, and a “burn building” for firefighte­rs to work on putting out fires. A “mock village” featuring a fake home, convenienc­e store and nightclub would also be built for rehearsing raids.

Opponents have said that the site would be to practice “urban warfare” and the 85-acre training center would require cutting down so many trees that it would be environmen­tally damaging.

Many activists also oppose spending millions on a police facility that would be surrounded by poor neighborho­ods in a city with one of the nation’s highest degrees of inequality.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has said that the site was cleared decades ago for a former state prison farm. He has said that it is filled with rubble and overgrown with invasive species, not hardwood trees. The mayor also has said that, while the facility would be built on 85 acres, about 300 acres would be preserved as public green space.

Many of those already accused of violence in connection with the training site protests are being charged with domestic terrorism, a felony that carries up to 35 years in prison. Those charges have prompted criticism from some that the state is being heavy-handed.

Lawmakers are considerin­g classifyin­g domestic terrorism as a serious violent felony. That means anyone convicted must serve their entire sentence, cannot be sentenced to probation as a first offender and cannot be paroled unless they have served at least 30 years in prison.

Meanwhile, more protests are planned in coming days, police said Monday.

 ?? JOHN SPINK/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTI­ON ?? Atlanta police and constructi­on workers stand near damaged property at the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in Georgia on Monday.
JOHN SPINK/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTI­ON Atlanta police and constructi­on workers stand near damaged property at the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in Georgia on Monday.

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