At least 35 people were detained after a construction vehicle was set on fire and rocks and bricks thrown at officers Sunday evening as violent protests continued at the sprawling site of a planned police training facility in Atlanta opponents have dubbed “Cop City,” authorities said.
Orange flames rose from a construction tractor and at least four other fires burned in and around the fenced site as people in black swarmed on both sides of the barricade before squad cars and armed officers arrived, surveillance videos released by the Atlanta Police Department shows.
“A group of violent agitators used the cover of a peaceful protest of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers,” the police department said.
The group changed into black clothing, went into the construction area and threw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers, destroying construction equipment “by fire and vandalism,” the agency said in a statement. “The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm.”
“Appropriate charges” are being coordinated with DeKalb County prosecutors and the Georgia Attorney General’s office, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said Sunday in a news conference, adding some detained are not from Atlanta and no officers were hurt.
“Officers exercised restraint and used non-lethal enforcement to conduct arrests,” the police statement added.
Sunday’s scrap follows at least two “clearing operations” – one in which officers fatally shot a protester – this year by police at the forested site slated to host the $90 million, 85-acre law enforcement facility. Opponents with the “Stop Cop City” group and others object, saying the project would propagate police militarization and harm the environment.
Atlanta police now will implement a “multi-layered strategy,” including “reaction and arrest” as more protests are planned in coming days, it said in its statement, adding it “asks for this week’s protests to remain peaceful.”
“When you throw commercial-grade fireworks, when you throw Molotov cocktails, large rocks, a number of items at officers, your only intent is to harm, and the charges are going to show that,” Schierbaum said.
Some arrested last year at the site were charged with domestic terrorism.
Despite concerns from protesters and some neighbors of the DeKalb County site, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens backs development of the training facility, which is due to include a shooting range, a mock city and a burn building. More than 200 acres around it will be protected greenspace, he has said.
“The city of Atlanta has the most extensive training requirements in the Southeast,” Dickens said this year. “Our training includes vital areas like de-escalation training techniques, mental health, community-oriented policing, crisis intervention training, as well as civil rights history education.
“This training needs space, and that’s exactly what this training center is going to offer.”