ATLANTA – Hundreds of activists broke into the site of a proposed police and fire training center in a tree-lined suburb of Atlanta on Sunday, torched police and construction vehicles and a trailer, and set off fireworks at officers stationed nearby.
The Atlanta Police Department said 35 people were detained, and rioters also threw large rocks, bricks and Molotov cocktails. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has charged at least 19 protesters with domestic terrorism, according to prison records.
The vandalism came on the second day of what was said to be a week-long series of protests protesting the planned construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center on the city-owned 85-acre campus.
The planned complex includes classrooms, an amphitheater and areas where law enforcement officers can simulate shootings and high-speed chases, and firefighters can learn to drive fire trucks and battle bells. Detractors deride it as Cop City.
The rioters used the cover of a peaceful protest to “launch a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers,” Atlanta police said in a statement, destroying several pieces of construction equipment. It was not immediately known if anyone was injured.
In the past few months, tensions between police officers and protesters have increased in the area adjacent to the forest. Environmentalists want the forest, which covers more than 1,000 acres, to be preserved as one of the region’s most important green spaces. Other activists are concerned that the development of the training base will help increase the militarization of the police force. Opponents of the center began organizing against the campus shortly after the Atlanta City Council approved it in 2021.
In January, 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Páez Terran died and a state trooper was seriously injured in clashes as police cleared protesters from the woods. A total of 19 protesters were charged with domestic terrorism in December and January.
On Sunday, many of the demonstrators — who joined a subset of several hundred protesters and stayed in the area where the music was playing — grabbed small items as they walked through tall grass and mud to the construction site, dressed in black and camouflage, with their faces covered. Fences in the way. As the vehicles were set on fire, enforcement officers watched and did not initially intervene.
An Atlanta police helicopter hovered overhead. Minutes later, the protesters returned to a section of the construction site where they had been gathering since Saturday, where live music played over loudspeakers. Multiple law enforcement agencies responded, including the Georgia State Patrol, and officers then converged on the area to detain people.
The planned center in DeKalb County is estimated to cost $90 million, and the Atlanta Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization, is raising most of that.
Activists against the development began their planned week of protest on Saturday with a rally, a march through the South River Forest and a music and art festival.
Blue Bohra Contributed report.