The site of the proposed Atlanta public safety training center at the site of the old Atlanta prison farm in Atlanta on Tuesday, Aug. 9 2022. A growing number of southeast Atlanta neighborhoods are speaking out against the proposal to build a massive training center for police officers and firefighters on forested land in DeKalb County. (Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — Five activists protesting Atlanta’s new public safety training center have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, the GBI announced Wednesday — one day after the latest clash between authorities and activists at planned site for the controversial development.
Dozens of arrests have been made since activists began taking up residence on the site — and engaging in more extreme actions — in an attempt to stop the training center’s construction.
But the charges announced against those arrested this week are believed to be the most serious to date.
The potential penalties vary depending on the specific allegations. But, if convicted, sentences could range from five to 35 years.
“Yesterday, several people threw rocks at police cars and attacked EMTs outside the neighboring fire stations with rocks and bottles,” GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles wrote in a press release. “Task force members used various tactics to arrest individuals who were occupying makeshift treehouses.”
Activist groups said those tactics included tear gas and pepper balls.
Members of the left-leaning “stop cop city” coalition were scheduled to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday. But DeKalb County police had access to the press conference site — a piece of former DeKalb County parkland adjacent to the training center property — blocked off.
Representatives and supporters from Community Movement Builders and the Atlanta Solidarity Fund later spoke to the media outside the police line.
“I don’t think people are defeated,” Community Movement Builders leader Kamau Franklin said. “I think there are forest defenders who will continue to defend the forest. That means civil disobedience, that means rallies, demonstrations. That means all the tactics that we can use that we believe will be successful in convincing people that there’s no reason to build cop city.”
Marlon Kautz with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which supports people arrested at protests, suggested Tuesday’s arrests were the result of police improperly tying “legitimate political protesters” to acts of violence.
The Atlanta City Council approved last fall a land lease paving the way for the Atlanta Police Foundation to build the sprawling $90-million training facility on more than 300 acres of city-owned forest in southwestern DeKalb County.
The James M. Cox Foundation, the charitable arm of Cox Enterprises which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has contributed to the training center fundraising campaign. It is among several Atlanta-based foundations that have contributed.
In the year-plus since the land lease was approved, a loose coalition of activists — anarchists, police abolitionists, environmentalists and everyone in between — has pushed back against the concept, seeing it as the city doubling down on police militarization and other controversial tactics even in the wake of 2020′s social justice protests.
Conventional protests and opposition efforts have also taken place. But more extreme tactics have included vandalizing police property and the homes and offices of contractors tied to the training center’s construction, setting fires and throwing Molotov cocktails at police and taking up residence in the forest.
“Honestly, what we think is that maybe some property has been damaged, right?” Franklin, the activist, said. “But what has really happened is that the city has come out violently, even before that, and attacked protesters and attacked this movement. And the city and its police department have violently attacked communities and has attacked the movement to stop police killings against Black people and people in Atlanta.”
Authorities said they found “explosive devices” during Tuesday’s efforts to clear the forest.
“We will not stop or slow down when it comes to bringing domestic terrorists to justice in Georgia, and yesterday’s arrests should serve as a strong reminder of that to anyone threatening our communities,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I want to commend the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Atlanta Police Department, FBI, and other law enforcement involved in yesterday’s operation for their courage and professionalism. This group will continue to work closely together as we disrupt the entire criminal network and ensure construction for the first responder training facility moves forward.”
Suspects and charges announced Wednesday are listed below.
Francis Carroll, 22, of Maine: Criminal Trespass, Domestic Terrorism, Aggravated Assault, Felony Obstruction, Interference with Government Property, Possession of Tools for the Commission of the Crime.
Nicholas Olson, 25, of Nebraska: Domestic Terrorism, Aggravated Assault, Interference with Government Property, Obstruction.
Serena Hertel, 25, of California: Criminal Trespass, Domestic Terrorism, Aggravated Assault, Obstruction, Inciting a Riot.
Leonard Vioselle, 20: Criminal Trespass, Domestic Terrorism, Possession for Tools of the Crime.
Arieon Robinson, 21, of Wisconsin: Criminal Trespass, Obstruction, Domestic Terrorism.
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