Atlanta police say eight activists protesting the controversial DeKalb County Police and Fire Training Center were arrested on May 17 and face charges ranging from criminal trespassing to obstruction law enforcement. State and federal law enforcement officials are also involved in the investigation of the incident.
Rocks and two lit Molotov cocktails were thrown at officers as they accompanied a contractor working on the 85-acre wooded site off Key Road, police say. Molotov cocktails were lit and caused two small fires which had to be extinguished, police said. No one was hurt.
Deputy Chief Darin Schierbaum told a news conference that police were at the city-owned site removing “illegal structures” when the incidents occurred. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating Molotov cocktail devices — glass containers filled with an accelerant, he said. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also involved.
“There have been a number of concerted efforts to stop the Public Safety Training Center from committing criminal acts here in Atlanta, DeKalb County, Birmingham, Alabama, and other states, and we thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation for joining this investigation. said Schierbaum.
Most of those arrested were from out of state, he said. He said late Tuesday afternoon that some activists remained on the property and risked arrest if they did not leave. The land where the training center is planned is not a public park, he added.
“We will not be deterred by the actions of the few who do not represent our community and our community values,” he said.
Activists opposed to the construction of the police and fire training center they dubbed “Cop City” held their own press conference on May 17. They said officers armed with assault rifles were “aggressive” during arrests.
May Johnson, who lives near the site where the police and fire training center is planned, said the May 17 arrests were the police department’s attempt “to demoralize a vibrant and diverse movement” trying to prevent the construction of what is known as the Atlanta Forest and the Weelaunee Forest.
The property sits on the South River watershed and razing acres of trees to build would harm the environment. Johnson said the forest is also the ancestral home of the Muscogee Nation and where the former Atlanta Prison Farm was located.
“This land is not just the lungs of Atlanta, as it is ecologically essential to the city’s survival. It’s a view of the scars of Atlanta’s past,” Johnson said.
Last year, the city council approved a ground lease for the 85-acre city-owned property off Key Road in DeKalb County. The $90 million facility will be built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, which has pledged to turn the remaining 260 acres into public green space and an urban forest.