The proposed construction of a public safety training center in a forest near Atlanta has caused unrest among environmental activists who argue that the development will harm the environment and contribute to the militarization of police.
As part of a “week of action” organized by activists, a crowd burned vehicles and set off fireworks, leading to the detainment of dozens of people by Atlanta police, with many being charged with domestic terrorism. Law enforcement agencies have accused the groups of terrorizing project workers and endangering local residents.
It’s worth noting that domestic terrorism is a felony offense that carries a prison sentence of up to 35 years.
These arrests have occurred in the aftermath of the death of a 26-year-old environmental activist who was killed by police after allegedly shooting a state trooper during the clearance of the area.
What is the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, or ‘Cop City?’
‘Cop City’ or the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, is a training space that has been the subject of controversy in recent months.
According to the Atlanta Police Foundation, ‘Cop City’ is an 85-acre training center that has a price tag of $90 million.
The facility is expected to house classrooms, a shooting range, a mock city for “burn building” and “urban police” training, and an emergency vehicle driver training course. The city has announced that the remaining 265 acres of the property, previously known as the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, will be preserved as “green space.”
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has stated that the area is filled with rubble and invasive species rather than hardwood trees.
The first phase of ‘Cop City’, which is funded by the Atlanta Police Foundation according to city officials, is slated to open later this year.
Why are activists protesting?
Since late 2021, activists have been occupying the area in an effort to halt the development of the project.
A coalition of environmental groups wrote a letter to the Atlanta City Council, stating that the project would endanger the South River Forest, which is surrounded by mostly Black and Hispanic communities, and “represents our best hope for resilience against the worst impacts of climate change.”
Jacqueline Echols, the board president of the South River Watershed Alliance, said in a statement that “balanced and equitable consideration must be given to the protection of the local ecosystem, the cultural and historical significance of the property, and the health and well-being of the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
The Defend the Atlanta Forest Movement has claimed that the project will “hyper-militarize law enforcement.”
Protests resumed in Atlanta in January following the fatal shooting of an activist by the police. Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency during those protests.
What is the activist family’s reaction?
The Activist’s family demands transparency following his death during the protest
The family of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, also known as “Tortuguita,” is seeking answers after he was fatally shot on January 18 during a protest against the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Law enforcement officials say that Tortuguita had shot a state trooper before being fatally shot himself.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) reported that Tortuguita was found inside a tent and did not comply with officers’ verbal commands, leading to the shooting. However, no body or dash camera footage is available to corroborate these claims.
Tortuguita’s family and activists have called for greater transparency from law enforcement and have expressed skepticism about the events leading up to his death.
“We need answers,” said Jeff Filipovits, the family’s attorney. “The GBI has provided selective information and is not providing the family with the information they need to understand what happened to Tortuguita.”
Why are protesters being arrested?
Atlanta police detain 35 protesters, charge 23 with domestic terrorism after violent clashes
Following the death of Tortuguita, seven people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism and criminal trespass, according to the GBI. Officials discovered weapons and fireworks in the area where 25 campsites were removed.
In a separate incident, five people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism and other charges at the site in late 2021. Prosecutors stated the arrests were related to violent acts and trespassing.
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