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Domestic terrorism charges for people arrested in latest clash at future Atlanta police training site

Police on Sunday cleared out a protest gathering and music festival organized by activists opposed to the training center, which they call "Cop City."

ATLANTA — The people arrested Sunday night at the site of the future Atlanta police and fire training center are facing domestic terrorism charges, DeKalb Jail records show.

The construction site for the future training center, which activists opposed to it call "Cop City," was the scene of another clash between police and activists on Sunday night. 

The activists had organized a gathering and music festival to kick off a "week of action" in protest against the training center, which took a chaotic turn with some of the activists storming the site and burning equipment. Police said that Molotov cocktails, bricks and rocks were also thrown at officers.

RELATED: Protesters burn construction equipment, throw explosives at police at Atlanta public safety training site

DeKalb Jail records show at least 23 people have been booked at the facility on domestic terrorism charges. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is listed as the arresting agency.

Police said Sunday night they had made at least 35 arrests. However, it is unclear if all of those individuals will face domestic terrorism charges.

APD characterized the incident on Sunday night as "violent agitators" taking advantage of a peaceful gathering. APD said officers "exercised restraint" and used non-lethal methods to make arrests.

In a statement, the "Defend the Atlanta Forest" movement decried what they characterized as a "militarized" police response to raid "a local family-friendly music festival in a public park."

"They used excessive force to arrest dozens of concert-goers and threatened to shoot people in the park. The event was being held on the second day on the fifth Week of Action to protect the Weelaunee (Atlanta) Forest and stop Cop City," the statement said in part.

The statement drew a distinction between an estimated thousand people at the music festival and community gathering on one side of the forest and "a separate protest group with hundreds of people" that marched to the construction site.

They claimed the arrests included people "with no connection to or awareness of the action on the other side of the nearly 600 acre forest."

"Music is not a crime, protest is not a crime. People lawfully exercising first amendment rights cannot be held criminally liable for the actions of others," the Atlanta Solidarity Fund said in a statement.

Chief Darin Schierbaum said many who will face charges were from out of state.

The law enforcement agencies who have periodically cleared out the site - among them APD, the GBI, Georgia State Patrol and DeKalb County Police - have routinely pointed to the outside origins of some of the protesters. Several local community groups and activist collectives however have also consistently opposed the project.

Previously, at least 14 people had been charged with domestic terrorism after police actions to clear the forest - where protesters have camped semi-permanently for more than a year - in January and December. 

During the December operation an activist, Manuel Paez Teran - who was also known as Tortuguita - was shot and killed. Police said Paez Teran first shot at officers, a narrative of events that protest groups and the activist's family have adamantly contested.

In January, protests against Tortuguita's death through downtown Atlanta began at Underground Atlanta before splintering, with some demonstrators lighting a police vehicle on fire and breaking windows at buildings, including one targeted for housing the Atlanta Police Foundation. Six people were arrested after those demonstrations.

The foundation is primarily funding the construction of the future training complex, an 85-acre, $90 million facility to be built on the Old Atlanta Prison Farm site under a lease agreement with the city.

There have been several clashes between the protesters and police or other city service employees over the last year because of the complex, which was approved by the City Council in 2021. 

Paez Teran's death, in particular, has resulted in a mushrooming of the protest movement.

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