(ATLANTA) — Dozens of people were arrested in Atlanta on Sunday evening after throwing bricks, rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers near the site of a planned public safety training facility, police said.
After attending an event near the site of the soon-to-be Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, a group of people changed into black clothing and entered the construction area at around 5:30 p.m. ET. The “agitators” approached officers there and launched a “coordinated attack,” according to the Atlanta Police Department.
“This is not a protest,” Atlanta Chief of Police Darin Schierbaum said at a press conference on Sunday night. “This is criminal activity.”
The officers “exercised restraint” and held their position until authorities from multiple law enforcement agencies responded and “used non-lethal enforcement” to detain at least 35 people, some of whom were not from the area, according to police. Additional arrests were being made, with information on the suspects and the charges against them expected to be released Monday.
“We continue to see a number of individuals not from Atlanta, Georgia, that are present tonight undertaking criminal activities to destabilize the construction of a fire and police training center,” Schierbaum told reporters.
No officers were injured during the incident, though police noted that “the illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm.” Some of those arrested sustained minor injuries. Several pieces of construction equipment at the site were destroyed by fire and vandalism during the attack, according to police.
“This wasn’t about a public safety training center,” Schierbaum added. “This was about anarchy, and this was about the attempt to destabilize.”
Police continue to investigate the incident. Both the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are also conducting a probe.
The Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, known by its opponents as “Cop City,” has been at the center of escalating demonstrations and confrontations since its proposal in 2021. The city-approved facility is being built on 85 acres of a 400-acre, city-owned property in unincorporated DeKalb County that is within the larger South River Forest, or “Weelaunee” as it’s called by the land’s indigenous people.
The city has said the training center “will support high-quality, community-oriented training for police, fire and E-911 personnel,” while the remaining 315 acres of the property will be preserved “as restored and improved green space for ecological protection and the public’s enjoyment as part of the larger South River Forest initiative.”
Those protesting the planned facility have said they lament the increasing militarization of law enforcement as well as the development of the forest.
More demonstrations are expected to take place in the coming days. While calling for “peaceful” protests, the Atlanta Police Department said its officers, “in collaboration with law enforcement partners, have a multi-layered strategy that includes reaction and arrest.”
Sunday’s clashes came as the GBI investigates multiple law enforcement officers in the Jan. 18 fatal shooting of an environmental activist during a raid on protesters camped out in the forest. Several large protests have occurred in downtown Atlanta over the death of 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, prompting Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to declare a state of emergency on Jan. 26.
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