Officers charge 23 with ‘terror’ in Atlanta ‘Cop City’ march | News complaining

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Police in the United States have charged 23 people with “domestic terrorism” following the latest round of arrests in a months-long protest against the construction of a sprawling police training facility in a forest in in Atlanta, Georgia.

Prosecution groups have pushed back on police characterization of events that led to the arrest of 35 people late on Sunday, which came as demonstrators held a festival near the site of the proposed building – known as “Cop City” with opponents, who have tried to finish. the project from 2021.

In a statement, the Defend the Atlanta Forest coalition said about 1,000 people gathered at the nearby festival when a group of about 350 to 400 protesters marched to the construction site.

“The defenders of the forest were able to push the police out without harming them physically, and they destroyed the device they used to destroy the forest and its human and non-human inhabitants.” killed,” said the group.

Protesters hold signs during demonstrations related to the death of Manuel Teran who was killed during a police attack against those protesting the construction of a police training facility project in Atlanta, Georgia.
Protesters demonstrate after the death of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who was killed during a police attack against those who opposed the construction of a police training facility in Atlanta, Georgia [File: Reuters]

Atlanta police, meanwhile, said “a group of violent protesters used the cover of a peaceful protest about the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to launch a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers”.

The police statement said the group “entered the construction area and started throwing large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers”.

Police later announced charges against 23 of those arrested. It was not immediately clear whether all the others would be charged or released.

The fights were the latest in an ongoing standoff over the proposed $90m facility, which was approved by the Atlanta City Council in September 2021 and is to sit on 34.4 hectares (85 acres ) of land within the South River Forest in unincorporated DeKalb Atlanta. county The area is known as the Weelaunee Forest by the native inhabitants of the area.

Opponents of the facility say the building would cause irreparable damage to the area’s environment. They have also argued that the facility would be surrounded by majority-Black neighborhoods, communities they say are already resistant to pre-militarized policing.

The protest campaign received national attention in January when environmental activist Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, known as “Tortuguita”, was fatally shot in a police attack on protesters.

Authorities initially said the officers fatally shot Teran after the 26-year-old shot at a state trooper. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation later disputed that description of events.

“There is at least one report where an officer speculates that the Trooper was killed by another officer in a shootout,” the bureau said on Feb. 9. “Speculation is not evidence. Our study does not support that statement. “

Attorneys for Teran’s family have been subpoenaed for answers and said an independent autopsy showed Teran was shot 12 or 13 times.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is still investigating the murder.

‘Increase their frustration’

Kei, an organizer with the Weelaunee Coalition, which organizes with educators, students and neighbors but was not involved in Sunday’s festival, told Al Jazeera she was present when the arrests began.

She said the “beautiful” day of music and art quickly turned sour when authorities entered the festival grounds and began detaining people. She noted that the people were arrested at the beginning of a week of planned action against the project.

At least one person was tasered and manipulated, said Kei, who declined to give her full name for fear of retaliation.

“On the one hand, whenever the police raid a music festival with children present, it’s shocking and scary because… they were very violent and indiscriminate in arresting people for being at a festival ,” she said.

“On the other hand, being an organizer in the movement, we have seen the police continue to increase their violence against the movement. “

In their statement, the Georgia Police Department maintained that “officers used restraint and used non-lethal coercion to make arrests.”

‘magical costs’

The latest incident comes days after several civil liberties and human rights groups urged Georgia’s attorney general and several lower-level officials to drop “domestic terrorism” charges filed in the face of 19 protesters was dropped before they were finally arrested.

The agencies noted that the individuals were charged under Georgia’s 2017 domestic terrorism statute, which takes an “unusually broad” view of domestic terrorism that includes any crime aimed at “disabling or destroying a critical infrastructure, state or government facility” with the intent to “modify, change or coerce government policy”.

The groups, which included Human Rights Watch and chapters of the National Lawyers Association, noted that the charge carries a sentence of five to 35 years. They argue that the charge violates the defendants’ First Amendment rights under the US Constitution, which protects the right to free speech, press and assembly.

They said some of the earlier arrest warrants had erroneously stated that the federal Department of Homeland Security had classified the group Defend the Atlanta Forest as “domestic violence extremists.”

“These charges represent a political decision to pursue witchcraft charges that do not match the crimes committed,” the letter said.

“To avoid adverse downstream effects on First Amendment freedoms, these charges must be dropped.”

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