(PHOTOS) Protest in response to death of Stop Cop City activist ends with property damage, arrestsA person smashes the windshield of an Atlanta Police patrol car with a hammer after a peaceful “Stop Cop City” protest turned violent on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
By Jaedon Mason, contributor
Atlanta, GA — Activists and demonstrators met peacefully at Underground Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, but a smaller group of demonstrators smashed windows and torched a police car.
They were there to denounce the death of an activist protesting the construction of a new police training center. On Wednesday, a police shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Teran, 26. A State Trooper was also shot and wounded during the confrontation. There is no body camera footage of the incident, and the trooper has not been identified. Police allege Teran had a gun.
Teran was one member of the broad coalition of groups opposed to the construction of the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center or “Cop City” an 85-acre police/fire training facility located in DeKalb County’s South River Forest.
Around 5 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 22, people began to gather at Underground. They filled in slowly at first, dressed in black, milling about, chatting with one another, creating an atmosphere akin to a well-attended wake.
Several young people stood with signs in front of the crowd, representing different groups in the decentralized coalition. Peyton Hayes, an Atlanta resident and member of People’s Socialist Liberation Atlanta, was one of those with a megaphone standing in front of the crowd leading chants.
She told Decaturish that she had heard about the event from Defend the Atlanta Forest. When reached for comment, Shaun Wolters, an Atlanta resident and member of the coalition in opposition to “Cop City,” said Defend the Atlanta Forest did not plan the event and was instead a “media aggregator,” serving to receive and distribute information.
Members of the coalition gave impassioned speeches, sharing beliefs on police militarization and grieving the loss of their compatriot. Non-affiliated members of the crowd were also invited to speak, sharing similar sentiments.
Around 5:40 p.m., the gathering began to march along Pryor Street before turning towards and then onto Peachtree Street. The procession marched through downtown, blocking traffic and chanting slogans. Around Woodruff Park, progressively larger fireworks started being set off from within the group. The procession stopped in front of 191 Peachtree Tower, headquarters of the Atlanta Police Foundation–one of the principal financial backers of “Cop City”.
There was a pause, then someone threw a rock at a window, inciting several people to surge forward, breaking first floor windows and spray-painting “Stop Cop City” on the facade of the building. The group continued down Peachtree, attempting to inflict similar damage to the Chase Bank franchise on the corner of Andrew Young Boulevard, but quickly moved on and targeted a pair of APD vehicles parked on the street.
Some members of the crowd broke tail lights and windows, before setting fireworks off inside the vehicles. Soon the police car in front of the Chase Bank started smoldering and most of the crowd began to waver. The deafening crack of another firework set off near the other vehicle dispersed most of the crowd, while a diminished contingent continued marching.
The Stop Cop City movement told a local TV station there’s a difference between damaging property and taking lives.
“Destruction of material is fundamentally different from violence,” the group told WSB-TV. “All reported acts appear to be explicitly targeted against the financial backers and goons of the Atlanta Police Foundation, a shady nonprofit that funnels weapons and military gear into our city to wage war on black and brown folks. The police have raided the forest for over seven months, destroying material by trashing camps and water supplies, threatening the lives of forest defenders and now have murdered one. Protestors are only leveling the playing field and preventing future violence by disabling the economic machine of the Atlanta Police Foundation that seeks to sterilize all life within the Weelaunee Forest.”
WSB-TV, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is owned by Cox Enterprises. The James M. Cox Foundation is another financial backer of the proposed training center.
In a press conference later Saturday evening, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and Police Chief Darin Schierbaum emphasized both the speed and effectiveness of the police response.
Schierbaum said, “within two blocks, the illegal activity had been stopped” and said that APD had “arrested actors that had been involved in other criminal activity, and are involved in a manner to deter the building of the Public Safety training center.”
“Every citizen of this city should know that where criminals should arrive inside Atlanta … they will be met by their police department, and they shall be met by the collaboration that stands behind me,” Schierbaum added. “And we shall continue to protect the First Amendment for everyone who chooses to peacefully do so. Our department is equally committed to both.”
On Sunday, Atlanta Police released the names and mugshots of people arrested on Saturday. Like activists arrested at the training center site, the people arrested in Atlanta are facing numerous charges, including domestic terrorism, which is a felony. The people arrested on Saturday are:
— Nadja Geier – 24, from Nashville, Tenn.
— Madeleine Feola – 22, from Spokane, Wash.
— Ivan Ferguson – 23, from Nevada
— Graham Evatt, 20, from Decatur, Ga.
— Francis Carrol, 22, from Kennebunkport, Maine
— Emily Murphy, 37, Grosse Isle, Mich.
Wolters, part of the Cop City opposition movement, commented on Sunday’s charges and Saturday’s arrests.
“The police just randomly grabbed some people from the crowd and it feels like they are charging them with the most they possibly can,” Wolters said. “This is completely unprecedented in the history of America for protestors to be charged with domestic terrorism for breaking windows. The mayor seems to be aligning himself with far-right figures like Marjorie Taylor Green.”
The mayor and police chief were clear that they were aligned on committing the full resources of the city to the investigation.
The police chief demonstrated confidence that opposition to “Cop City” would “diminish” claiming it was “only a matter of time.”
But the escalating confrontation over Cop City is increasingly drawing national and international attention.
“The movement here opposing Cop City is one of the most important events going on in the country, if not the world,” said Sorrel Inman, a Knoxville resident and an ecological correspondent covering the Southeastern region with Mergoat mag. “It’s at the intersection of so many important matters surrounding ecology — including race issues, socioeconomic issues, and police violence.”
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