Atlanta City Council shown video of fiery protest at public safety training site

Public safety officials briefed Atlanta City Council on Monday with multiple video angles of a fiery protest the day before at the site of the planned public safety training center in DeKalb County.

Twenty-three people were charged with domestic terrorism after a large group dressed in black threw rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and launched fireworks at officers, Atlanta police said. Several pieces of construction equipment were set ablaze.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Scheirbaum played for council members security camera footage from the events at the construction site where, he said, a group of bad actors hid among the crowd at a concert that was a publicized, peaceful protest against the project. What came after was a direct attack on police officers, he said.

Scheirbaum applauded the officers for moving away from the attack and not escalating the violence. APD officers were then joined by other departments and began making arrests.

There were no injuries, according to the chief.

Various activist groups in opposition to the training center are taking part in a week of action which included a music festival over the weekend, on property next to the construction site.

Sunday afternoon, Scheirbaum said, officers noticed individuals changing into black clothes and some wielding shields and moved quickly to the training center site. About 100 individuals approached officers stationed at the site, videos show.

Further footage shows the group starting fires, throwing fireworks at officers and hitting construction equipment with Molotov cocktails. One individual can be seen throwing a flammable accelerant on a burning piece of equipment.

Scheirbaum noted that the video captured protesters in black then changing back into regular clothes in the woods to return to the music festival.

“It is clear today that we saw a repeat of what we’ve seen in the past, where events that are shown to be peaceful and being publicized as being peaceful, are being used by individuals as cover to launch illegal and criminal attacks,” he said.

Only two of the 23 protesters arrested were from Georgia, according to police.

Atlanta Fire & Rescue Department Chief Rod Smith said that fires set by protesters could have caused a forest fire and jeopardized power lines that transmit electricity to buildings in downtown Atlanta, including Grady Hospital.

“The simple threat of just spot fires has the potential to cause a lot of harm, a lot of danger, to the citizens that we ensure we will protect on a day-to-day basis,” Smith said.

The public safety officials presented in the chamber after council members had already sat through hours of public comment — most of which was emotional pleas for the council to do what they can to stop the project.

Councilwoman Mary Norwood pressed the department heads and officials from the mayor’s office on why they waited to give their presentation until after public commenters had left.

“We had an entire chamber filled with people who had a different narrative,” she said. “ my question to the administration…is why do we do this when no one is left?”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has previously voiced that he felt like the narrative around the planned public safety training center “got way out of hand” and is flooded with misinformation.

Bryan Thomas, director of communications for the mayor’s office, said that the decision to present after public comment was to respect the order of meeting proceedings and asked council members for their help.

“Since this project began we have been battling misinformation,” Thomas said.

The clash between police and protestors was the most recent in a string of violent conflicts at the proposed 90-acre police and firefighter training facility.

The project gained national attention after a Georgia State Patrol trooper in January fatally shot protestor Manual Teran at the site. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Teran shot first and wounded a trooper as the state tried to clear the property.

Since, an undisclosed number of Atlanta police officers have been redirected to help guard the site with other agencies, which has raised eyebrows of council members who say that Atlanta public safety will suffer at the expense of the training center.

“I am curious as to why we have APD officers over a site we have no legal jurisdiction over?” Council member Liliana Bakhtiari asked. “It seems to me that this is a problem.”

Ahead of the City Council meeting on Monday, a coalition of faith leaders gathered on the steps of City Hall to rally against construction of the police training facility. They called for a halt to the project, for all charges to be dropped against protestors and for an independent investigation into Teran’s death.

“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,’” said Rev. Keyanna Jones. “I have five Black children, I don’t want ‘cop city.’”