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Opposition Grows to Atlanta “Cop City” as More Forest Defenders Charged with Domestic Terrorism

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Image Credit: Nolan Huber-Rhoades

Prosecutors in Atlanta have charged 23 forest defenders with “domestic terrorism” after their arrests late Sunday at a festival near the site of Cop City, a massive police training facility being built in the Weelaunee Forest. The arrests followed clashes between police and protesters on Sunday afternoon and came less than two months after Atlanta police shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, a 26-year-old environmental defender. For an update on the growing movement to fight Cop City in Atlanta, we’re joined by Micah Herskind, a local community organizer, and Kamau Franklin, founder of Community Movement Builders.

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StoryFeb 02, 2023Atlanta’s “Cop City” Moves Ahead After Police Kill 1 Protester & Charge 19 with Domestic Terrorism
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we go to Atlanta, where prosecutors have charged another 23 forest defenders with domestic terrorism after their arrests late Sunday at a festival near the site of Cop City, a massive police training facility being built in the Weelaunee Forest. The arrests followed clashes between police and protesters Sunday afternoon. This comes less than two months after Atlanta police shot and killed Manuel Terán, a 26-year-old environmental defender who also went by the name Tortuguita.

Earlier this week, organizers with the Faith Coalition to Stop Cop City gathered to condemn the plans to build Cop City and the police department’s crackdown on protesters. This is Reverend Keyanna Jones.

REV. KEYANNA JONES: The reality of it is that the ones who are engaging in violence are the police, and they’re from right here in Atlanta, Georgia. You got APD. You got Georgia state police. You got GBI. You got Georgia state troopers. You got everybody except the MARTA police who are engaging in violence and terrorism against the people who are standing against this illegal land swap.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, a group of Mvskoke Creek activists interrupted a Regional Commission meeting and attempted to give an eviction notice to the Atlanta mayor.

MVSKOKE CREEK ACTIVIST 1: Objection. Objection. We have a letter being delivered from the Mvskoke Creek Nation on behalf of Mvskoke Creek spiritual leadership in opposition to Cop City.

MVSKOKE CREEK ACTIVIST 2: I came all the way on the Trail of Tears to deliver this letter to you folks.

UNIDENTIFIED: You’re welcome to leave.

MVSKOKE CREEK ACTIVIST 2: We want you to know that the contemporary Mvskoke people are now making their journey back to our homelands and hereby give notice to Mayor Andre Dickens, the Atlanta City Council, the Atlanta Police Department, the Atlanta Police Foundation, the Dekalb County Sheriff’s Office, and so-called Cop City, that you must immediately vacate Mvskoke homelands and cease violence and policing of Indigenous and Black people in Mvskoke lands. We also ask for an independent investigation into the assassination of our relative Tortuguita and that the charges be dropped against Weelaunee Forest defenders.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the growing movement to fight Cop City in Atlanta, we’re joined by two guests. Micah Herskind is a local community organizer in Atlanta, Georgia, and Kamau Franklin is founder of the organization Community Movement Builders.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Kamau, let’s begin with you. Talk about what happened this weekend. I mea, in the national media, it’s that basically domestic terrorists attacked the police, and so, many of them were arrested.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah, I mean, the national media is basically forwarding or believing or putting out the media narrative of the police themselves. Nothing can be further from the truth.

What we had over the weekend was a festival in Weelaunee Park with hundreds of people gathered to denounce Cop City, to celebrate the Weelaunee Forest. There was a breakaway action in which there was civil disobedience, and there was an attempt to disable property. The police overreacted, came in, chased people down. They then decided to go a mile away and invade the music festival. They broke up the entire festival. They threatened people’s lives. They threw people to the ground. They arrested people randomly and indiscriminately.

And as you stated, we now have 23 more cases of domestic terrorism filed. We had a total of 35 arrests at that rally and demonstration. And they continue to put out a narrative to scare people and to criminalize the larger movement to stop Cop City.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a forest defender who was at the peaceful action and concert Sunday. They sent this to us, the audio, describing what happened that night, asking to remain anonymous. Their voice has been distorted for their safety.

FOREST DEFENDER: When police rolled armored vehicles onto the field and approached the music festival group, brought out riot shields, everyone stood together and demanded that we be let go to go home, and only if we went all together. And the police were forced to let that happen.

And it was really scary and disheartening. People were afraid. People were afraid for their lives, after Tortuguita was killed in these woods, after the violence that the police were showing. They were charging people earlier in the night and threatening to tase them. And then, when people stood together and kept each other safe, it was so beautiful.

It felt like a punishment for standing up, for exerting our First Amendment rights, for showing a united front to the power structure of the city. And it felt really scary. Like, it’s possible that we’re watching the future of protest for all of our future, protests against police brutality, protests against climate change. We’re seeing it crushed right here in front of our eyes.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that is a forest defender who we’re not identifying. But, Micah Herskind, can you talk about the history of the Stop Cop City, as it’s known, movement?

MICAH HERSKIND: Yeah, absolutely. So, this is a movement that goes back years now. When the proposal to build Cop City and to destroy up to 380 acres of forest land first went public back in 2021, there was immediately a really broad community coalition that formed against Cop City. People were canvassing neighborhoods, petitioning, flyering, showing up at City Council.

On the day of the final vote where City Council voted to approve Cop City, there were 17 hours of public comment from just local community members saying, you know, “We do not want this facility to be built. We need this forest land. It’s critical for our community. It’s critical environmental protection.” And, of course, the City Council approved it anyway.

And since then, the movement has continued, and it’s only grown, you know, especially in the last year. As police have escalated their tactics, escalated their raids and their violence, support has come in from all over the country of people who recognize that this is absolutely an Atlanta issue but it’s also an issue that’s going to impact people across the country and across the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Kamau Franklin, has there been any update on the police killing of the forest defender known as Tortuguita? His mother came up from Central America. What has happened? And what has the further investigation found?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, so far, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has stonewalled releasing further evidence about what happened that day. The family is persisting. They’ve hired attorneys. They’ve gotten the release of several videotapes. But other than that, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation — which, you know, has no real legitimate authority or right to investigate this violent crime by the police, because they were part of it. And so, we think that is why an independent investigation is needed.

The information that has been released so far backs up completely the claim that organizers and activists and forest defenders have made, one, that the police gave no warning. There’s no videotape whatsoever of the surrounding scenes in which you can hear any warning by the police. Two, the police claimed that there was one shot given, or one shot by Tortuguita, and then there was a return of fire. The blast of fire that you can hear on the videotape that was released, a body-camera imagery of officers away from the scene, was a burst of fire. They themselves commented that it sounded like suppressed fire, which is codeword for police fire.

So, we continue to protest, to demand an independent investigation that has nothing to do with the authorities who were involved in the murder of Tortuguita, because we think that’s the only way we’re going to find out the truth about what took place.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Reverend Keyanna Jones, who we referenced earlier, a member of the Faith Coalition to Stop Cop City, speaking at an Atlanta City Council meeting Monday.

REV. KEYANNA JONES: What will your legacy be, you so-called legacies of Black misleadership sitting up here on this council? Let me tell you something. Representation is not enough when you don’t represent the people who elected you. The people came out and spoke clearly. And let me go to the Bible one more again and say that we are here as clergy to cry loud and spare not. We are opening our mouths and crying with a loud voice to say that we don’t want Cop City! I live in East Atlanta. I don’t want Cop City! I’ve got five Black children! I don’t want Cop City! I like breathing clean air. I don’t want Cop City! I want to drink clean water. I don’t want Cop City! I don’t want Black Hawk — Black Hawk helicopters landing around the corner from my house. I don’t want Cop City! I don’t. My neighbors don’t. My granny don’t. She’s been in her house almost 50 years, and you suckers will never get it through gentrification, because we knew what to do.

AMY GOODMAN: So, again, that’s Reverend Keyanna Jones, a member of the Faith Coalition to Stop Cop City. There’s also the environmentalists, who want to preserve the forest. There are Indigenous people, the Mvskoke, as well. And you have those who are deeply concerned about police misconduct. Kamau, this facility, this police training facility, would be the largest in the country? And has any part of it been built? Do you really see yourself stopping this?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, the struggle continues. No part of it has been built. They’ve cleared off some forest land, and they’ve gated off certain parts of the area. But to this stage, two years later, nothing has been built.

And that’s because of the fortitude, the diversity of that movement, the tactics — the tactical diversity, the strategic diversity, the fact that we continue to press forward, even when the mayor of Atlanta, unlike the mayor of Jackson — the mayor of Atlanta, who teams up with the right-wing white supremacist governor of Georgia to suppress organizers and activists in the city and to work with the governor to give state terrorism charges. We have a weak mayor. We have a weak City Council that gives in to right-wing demands. But that has not, again, stopped this movement from moving forward.

We are going to continue to press to stop Cop City. We’re going to continue to try to bring economic pain to Atlanta by doing what we can to stop the Democratic National Convention from convening in Atlanta. And Atlanta is also attempting to get the FIFA World Cup there. We’re going to do everything within our power to let them know that if they come to Atlanta, they will be protested against.

AMY GOODMAN: Micah Herskind, today is the National Day of Action Against Police Terror. Can you talk about the actions that are planned today?

MICAH HERSKIND: Yeah, absolutely. So, there’s been actions planned all throughout the week. Today, one of the actions is going to culminate in a rally at the King Center, where folks will be coming out from all over again to say, you know, the community is not in support of Cop City, despite the city’s messaging that the entire movement is actually made up of outside agitators, which is a trope that’s been used since the civil rights movement and before to discredit movements. This is people in Atlanta who have been crying out for years now that, you know, we do not want Cop City. And so, you know, this is just another show of community support and of community opposition to this facility. And, you know, I know Kamau has been a part of planning that event. I don’t know if you want to add anything.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Kamau Franklin, if you want to comment?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, only that, you know, not only are we doing actions here in Atlanta, but today is actually a national day against police violence. People can go to NationalDayofAction.info to see that there is a list of over 20 cities that are going to be doing everything from banner drops to civil disobedience to teach-ins to direct action to rallies and demonstrations. We must use this time to revive the national movement to stop police violence and police terror. We can no longer rely on — for those who have — the Democrats or policymakers to make changes for us. We have to get back out there in the streets and demand not only our rights, but stop the police violence against our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Kamau Franklin, founder of Community Movement Builders, and Micah Herskind, Atlanta community organizer. And we’ll link to your piece in Prism.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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Atlanta’s “Cop City” Moves Ahead After Police Kill 1 Protester & Charge 19 with Domestic Terrorism

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