Atlanta’s “Stop Cop City” Movement Is Spreading Despite Rampant State Repression

Within the woods outdoors Atlanta on the night time of March 5, some demonstrators could have slipped into the fold of an ongoing, protest-themed music pageant after coming back from a march to the development web site of a deliberate $90 million militarized police coaching facility often called “Cop Metropolis,” the place they allegedly set a bulldozer alight and vandalized building tools.

Cops allege the demonstrators flung bricks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at police. Given the rising particulars of official misinformation and omission surrounding the police-perpetrated killing of Manuel Esteban Paez “Tortuguita” Terán, there’s cause to be skeptical of police accounts.

No matter what occurred on the building web site, the police response quickly prolonged far past the cohort of demonstrators taking direct motion. Cops flooded the fringes of the music pageant after the development web site protest. As music pageant attendees started to run, police threatened to shoot. They dropped tear fuel canisters in a parking zone, and commenced detaining and IDing folks at random. Attendees’ cellphone movies present the police giving chase, then tasing one music pageant attendee, who collapses to the bottom.

Within the chaos, not even “Defend the Atlanta Forest” activists have been sure who had marched to the development web site and who had merely soaked up daylight on the music pageant. As reported by The Intercept, arrest warrants pointed to muddy footwear as an indicator of guilt — muddy footwear, at an out of doors music pageant. To many activists, this appeared an unreliable methodology of separating the parents who could have been concerned in direct motion from the music pageant attendees.

“They only grabbed whoever they may,” one Defend the Atlanta Forest activist, who requested anonymity attributable to political repression, informed Truthout. “Seemingly, they only grabbed anybody they may in response to the demonstrations which have occurred.”

The best way the activists describe it, because the scene unfolded, music pageant attendees making an attempt to depart by automotive discovered their exit blocked by a protracted line of cop vehicles. Police in riot gear swarmed onto the scene. The gang locked arms, hoping to protect kids in attendance from altercations with the police. Ultimately, a random group of 5 pageant attendees got here ahead to barter an exit from the scene. Panic started to subside, and the rest of the music pageant lineup was canceled. Everybody not tenting within the forest left on foot, and police permitted vehicles to depart the parking zone.

By the requirements of police repression of the “Cease Cop Metropolis” motion, activists thought-about this decision a “vibrant spot,” in that police didn’t tear fuel the gang a second time. However regulation enforcement did arrest scores of individuals. They hauled arrestees to a secondary location, the place, by some accounts, they intentionally separated Georgia residents from out-of-staters. By the tip of the day, 23 of the 35 people arrested were charged with home terrorism beneath a statute passed in the aftermath of white supremacist gunman Dylann Roof’s bloodbath of Black churchgoers at a Charleston church.

Beneath the statute’s warped conception of critical infrastructure, anybody concerned in direct motion towards Cop Metropolis may be smeared as a home terrorist. With scant proof past attendance on the music pageant, police booked the accused, all with out bond, except Thomas Jurgens, a authorized observer released on a $5,000 bond. Clad within the searing neon inexperienced Nationwide Legal professionals Guild authorized observer shirt and cap, Jurgens’s affiliation wasn’t arduous to overlook, even in partial darkness.

The DeKalb County court docket Justice of the Peace decide agreed. “Given the truth that he’s an legal professional, his declare at this level, he’s a authorized observer, I can’t stand right here and say there’s proof he threw one thing,” she told native ABC affiliate WSB. Following his arrest, the Florida Bar opened a disciplinary investigation into Jurgens’s bar affiliation. As if the specter of 35 years in jail on home terrorism expenses wasn’t sufficient, Jurgens now contends with skilled backlash as effectively.

As for the remainder of the accused, they continue to be in jail after being denied bond. The Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a bail fund for social justice activists, will maintain combating to be allowed to submit bail, as they’ve finished for earlier Cease Cop Metropolis home terrorism defendants. Activists fear for the defendants languishing in jail. The activist with Defend the Atlanta Forest pointed to the case of Jamie Marsicano, a second-year law student arrested mid-semester, with no timeline for when or if she is likely to be launched from police custody.

In denying activists bond, the decide, like native police, raised issues about protesters being from out of state, as if broadening an area motion right into a nationwide one alone is trigger for prosecution. On the bond listening to, Choose A.W. Davis determined that the out-of-state protesters posed a flight danger. However these surface-level feedback are solely a part of the story.

For months now, Georgia officers have sought to tamp down nationwide solidarity with Cease Cop Metropolis. In December 2022, when the primary spherical of home terrorism expenses have been levied towards Defend the Atlanta Forest protesters, Atlanta Police Division Assistant Chief Carven Tyus commented, “None of these folks stay right here. They don’t have a vested curiosity on this property, and we present that point and time once more. Why is a person from Los Angeles, California, involved a few coaching facility being constructed within the state of Georgia? And that’s the reason we contemplate that home terrorism.”

These feedback signaled an escalation within the combat towards Cop Metropolis, and mirrored rising nervousness in regards to the burgeoning nationwide nature of the motion. By the point the primary spherical of home terrorism expenses have been handed down in December, the occupation of the South River Forest, referred to as the “Weelaunee Forest” by activists utilizing the Mvskoke tribal phrase for the watershed, had continued for over a yr, and the motion had begun to search out traction amongst activist circles on social media.

Motion researchers mapped the nest of subcontractors, company sponsors, and police partnerships supporting Cop Metropolis and elevated the frequency of demonstrations towards stakeholders. The motion went nationwide; anonymous activists smashed home windows at Atlas Technical Consultants in Minneapolis and vandalized Financial institution of America and Wells Fargo buildings in Philadelphia. (Atlas Technical Consultants is a contractor involved within the building of the ability; Bank of America is a company companion of the Atlanta Police Basis, the nonprofit driving construction of the coaching compound; and a Wells Fargo regional president sits on the Foundation’s board.) The variety of activists on the bottom in Georgia swelled, with many out-of-state supporters becoming a member of the fold.

Regardless of the specter of home terrorism expenses, protesters, together with these from out of state, continued to carry their floor within the Weelaunee Forest, tenting close to the positioning of the proposed police coaching facility, with occasional incursions into the development web site for monkey wrench-style direct motion: burning of bulldozers, vandalism of police vehicles, and focused property destruction. The activists, too, hosted teach-ins, held occasional music festivals, and began a meals pantry within the woods.

In January, tensions over the occupation of the Weelaunee Forest reached a fever pitch. On January 18, 2023, police descended on the forest camp with weapons blazing. Regulation enforcement shot 26-year-old activist “Tortuguita” Terán over a dozen times. Police declare that Terán shot a state trooper; an autopsy commissioned by Terán’s household signifies that a number of law enforcement officials shot Terán by means of each fingers, figuring out that Terán sat cross-legged with their fingers up. Within the aftermath of the grotesque police-perpetrated homicide, activists took to the streets in anger, setting cop vehicles alight in downtown Atlanta. By the tip of the day, another 14 activists were charged beneath the home terrorism statute, some for forest occupation-related actions, and a few associated to conduct throughout protests in downtown Atlanta.

All arrestees following the downtown Atlanta protests have been charged with arson, with little regard for who really dedicated which crime. The home terrorism arrest warrants relied closely on guilt by affiliation, itemizing out the entire alleged crimes dedicated by any members of Defend the Atlanta Forest over an unspecified interval, fairly than individualizing the arrest warrants to the precise actions dedicated.

As Defending Rights & Dissent wrote in a letter addressed to prosecuting district attorneys, the Georgia legal professional common, and the chair of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council, these expenses have been a draconian intimidation tactic focused at chilling the train of First Modification rights. Confronted with potential home terrorism expenses carrying a compulsory minimal of 5 years in jail, many activists may effectively make the choice to remain house.

Along with the spurious expenses, Atlanta-area prosecutors tried to assault the motion by means of different means. Forward of the March week of motion involving protests in Atlanta, letter deliveries and different small-scale protests, music festivals, and better numbers of individuals occupying the Weelaunee Forest, prosecutors floated charging the Atlanta Solidarity Fund beneath Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statutes. Within the Nineteen Seventies, Congress handed RICO, an intentionally broad statute designed to seize a variety of actions beneath the header of “racketeering,” in order to extra successfully prosecute slippery members of the Mafia. Since its passage, RICO has been corrupted to criminalize advocacy by direct action animal welfare organizations and anti-abortion groups, amongst others.

In recent times, RICO statutes have additionally been weaponized by corporate giants to silence opposing attorneys in environmental fits. The novel software of the Georgia RICO statute towards the Atlanta Solidarity Fund would tie up the bail fund in costly litigation and suppress its organizing in solidarity with the Cease Cop Metropolis defendants. RICO consultants denounced the doable expenses. As an alternative, it appears, Georgia merely determined to disclaim bail to the March week of motion defendants.

Suppressing Info

Except for lawfare intimidation techniques, police have moved to aim to stymie provide aspect details about the Cease Cop Metropolis protests. Native regulation enforcement threatened Truthout contributor Frances Madeson, reportedly saying, “Don’t you already know it’s a felony to journey from one other state for a protest?” After overlaying a 15-person protest, Truthout Senior Editor and Workers Reporter Candice Bernd was adopted by police, detained, and the buddy who was driving her was issued two tickets for exceedingly minor visitors violations.

After Defending Rights & Dissent filed open information requests to extract paperwork from, amongst different entities, the Georgia Info Sharing and Evaluation Heart, the fusion heart responded with a bad-faith interpretation of open information exemptions. Beneath their interpretation, fusion facilities, that are terrorism-focused intelligence gathering businesses integrating state and native regulation enforcement with the Division of Homeland Safety and state-level our bodies, would don’t have any want for a Freedom of Info Act workplace, as all information can be exempt. Open information requests filed way back to January 27 have yet to receive a response from authorities. (The statutory time for Georgia businesses to answer open information requests is three business days.)

Lastly, regardless of widespread requires an investigation into Terán’s loss of life, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation refuses to launch any info, supposedly to “preserve the integrity of the investigation.” The DeKalb Medical Examiner’s Workplace has but to launch their post-mortem report of Terán.

Chilling Dissent

If police strategies in Georgia are an intimidation tactic, they appear, in some methods, to be working. After the discharge of the organizational letter, a member of a New York-based environmental nonprofit contacted Defending Rights & Dissent, asking about protests in solidarity. They finally determined to not come to Georgia, as tempting because the prospect of indefinite detention beneath home terrorism statutes is likely to be, as the danger of arrest was just too excessive.

You may disagree with the techniques of burning police vehicles or vandalizing bulldozers. However what’s indeniable is that police repression has prolonged into all corners of this motion, amounting to a profoundly undemocratic exertion of state energy. From the outset, the voices of the folks have been marginalized and subsumed beneath deference to Atlanta’s police state.

For all of the critics (and cops) bellyaching about doing protest “the precise method,” the folks of Atlanta have tried. In September 2021, the Atlanta Metropolis Council heard over 17 hours of public feedback in regards to the proposed police coaching facility. By the rely of a crowdsourced tally, about 70 p.c of the feedback have been in opposition to the development of the ability. Backed by highly effective police and company pursuits — and a local newspaper owned by the CEO of a serious donor to the Atlanta Police Basis — the Atlanta Metropolis Council plowed forward anyway, approving the project by a vote of 10-4. Protests started instantly — and so did the repression.

“You take a look at this motion, and from day one, it’s clear that police have cracked down,” the Defend the Atlanta Forest activist informed Truthout, describing a 2021 motion through which police arrested 12 folks after they held a banner in entrance of an area metropolis council member’s home. “It was the pandemic, so there have been no public feedback allowed and no bodily conferences. So the folks couldn’t be a presence when the vote [to approve Cop City] was occurring,” the activist mentioned. The group was hauled off to the local jail for the crime of being pedestrians within the roadway.

The activist ran by means of a litany of subsequent repression. Heavy police presence at small demonstrations. Georgia State Patrol members tackling folks at a peaceable protest. SWAT teams exhibiting as much as tackle folks handing out flyers downtown. Over the March week of motion, police employed each device at their disposal to intimidate and repress activism, all the way in which right down to detaining folks hanging a banner on an overpass and making an arrest throughout a raid of an area nonprofit on the pretext of addressing an excellent parking ticket.

“It’s actually been a sample of brutal policing,” mentioned the Defend the Atlanta Forest activist. “Police are being introduced in to convey an authoritarian response to peoples’ expression of curiosity.”

Certainly, the state response has represented a concerted effort to dissuade folks from participating in activism, a technique significantly focused at folks arriving from elsewhere within the nation to face in solidarity with the forest defenders in DeKalb County. Police and prosecutors have merely tried to make the danger of protesting intolerably excessive. What are usually comparatively low-risk protest actions — dropping banners, marching peacefully in broad daylight in downtown Atlanta — have change into militarized police encounters, the place an excellent parking ticket or mere affiliation with the motion may be invoked as justification for arrest. From visitors tickets to home terrorism expenses, police and prosecutors have drawn on the arsenal of state energy intimidation techniques designed to quash First Modification-protected exercise, civil disobedience and disruptive activism.

“It’s actually scary to consider what prospects this has for future protests on this nation and for folks standing up for what’s proper,” the Defend the Atlanta Forest activist mentioned.

And right here, outdoors Atlanta, simply eight miles from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthplace, activists discover a explicit resonance to this repression. “It hits lots of us actually arduous to see this, just some blocks proper now from the King Heart.”

As within the days of brutal repression of the civil rights motion, so too are the levers of state energy aligned towards the Cease Cop Metropolis motion. However there are additionally causes for hope. Regardless of the perfect efforts of Atlanta authorities to comprise the motion, to smear these standing in solidarity as outdoors agitators, this motion is each intersectional and multilocational.

The Black Alliance for Peace organized a National Day of Action Against Police Terror centered on Cop Metropolis; the Georgia department of the Sierra Membership wrote a statement of solidarity. In Pennsylvania in early March, local activists connected advocacy towards a proposed Pittsburgh police coaching facility to the motion towards Cop Metropolis, an early expression of solidarity. A couple of weeks later, Crowd Counting reported solidarity actions happening throughout 94 cities in 35 states, starting from vigils, to direct motion towards Cop Metropolis company companions, to actions towards comparable amenities elsewhere.

Past the week of motion, the battle to cease Cop Metropolis continues, in forms ranging from sabotage to authorized battles over environmental allowing trivialities. Solely time will inform how this motion resolves — whether or not it succumbs to police repression or whether or not Cop Metropolis will certainly by no means be constructed. But it surely’s been a hell of a combat to this point, with the total pressure of state energy introduced towards the protesters that dare to defy it.

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