Environmental activists clashed with law enforcement officials at the future site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center on Sunday night.
A self-dubbed group of “forest defenders” who oppose the construction of police training center in Georgia’s Weelaunee Forest, because they believe it will destroy the local environment, decided to burn it down themselves in what Atlanta Police called a “coordinated attack.”
Around 150 rioters set construction vehicles and a police surveillance tower on fire, when they lobbed Molotov cocktails and shot off fireworks at the proposed training facility.
The violent confrontation happened on Sunday night, when the the activists kicked off a “week of action” with a music festival outside of the construction site, where protestors have been camped out since late 2021.
The Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which will cost $90 million in tax payer and private funds, will be built on 381 Acres of forested land on the site of the Old Atlanta Prison Farm.
Stop Cop City, an activist group, opposes the project on the basis that the land the training center is being built on was stolen from the Muscogee Native Americans in the 1800s, and its construction will be environmentally damaging through deforestation.
The facility is set to be a training and education center for both police and firefighters, and will include a replica city to better prepare first responders for their real-world jobs.
According to Stop Cop City, the plans for the facility include “military-grade training facilities, a mock city to practice urban warfare, dozens of shooting ranges, and a Black Hawk helicopter landing pad.”
The website claims that the surrounding area is populated by primarily Black residents who “overwhelmingly oppose” the police training facility.
“To be clear — cop city is not just a controversial training center. It is a war base where police will learn military-like maneuvers to kill black people and control our bodies and movements,” said Community Movement Builders’ activist Kwame Olufemi.
“The facility includes shooting ranges, plans for bomb testing, and will practice tear gas deployment. They are practicing how to make sure poor and working class people stay in line.”
“So when the police kill us in the streets again, like they did to Rayshard Brooks in 2020, they can control our protests and community response to how they continually murder our people,” he concluded.
The organization believes that the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) is only accountable “Atlanta’s wealthy elite, not the citizens of Atlanta.”
They claim that the APF has “lied and avoided transparency” since Cop City was proposed, and have refused to engage with the public, or make corporate sponsors or environmental assessment reports public knowledge.
Protestors have been occupying the contested land since 2021, when they built an “Autonomous Zone” of barricades and tree forts to prevent construction from progressing.
The movement turned violent on Jan. 18, when protester Manuel Teran was killed during a police raid of the occupied area, when he allegedly discharged a handgun at an officer.
His death led to a violent march in Atlanta three days later, where protestors set a police on fire and vandalized institutions that support the facilities construction.
Sunday night’s Weelaunee Music Festival was meant to kick off protestor’s “first week of action” since Teran’s death.
Trouble-makers reportedly wore masks and camouflage while descending on the construction site to burn it down. Protestors also attacked police with rocks, sticks, and fireworks.
SWAT teams descended on rioters, and 35 were captured and arrested, while many more fled back into the forest.
Gunshots were reportedly heard on the scene, but Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said that they were likely fireworks.
He also noted that many of the “violent agitators” arrested during the riot were out of state actors, rather than local residents.
“The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm. Officers exercised restraint and used non-lethal enforcement to conduct arrests,” APD said in a statement about the incident.
“With protests planned for the coming days, the Atlanta Police Department, in collaboration with law enforcement partners, have a multi-layered strategy that includes reaction and arrest,” the statement continued.
“The Atlanta Police Department asks for this week’s protests to remain peaceful.”