Police arrested seven people at the site of Atlanta’s planned police and fire training center in DeKalb County on Tuesday, and protesters threw two Molotov cocktails at officers looking to clear the forested land, according to the Atlanta Police Department.

One Molotov cocktail was thrown toward officers and caused a small fire as police tried to clear the site, according to an Atlanta police spokesman. A second was thrown later in the day, the department said. No injuries were reported.

Activists who oppose the building of the 85-acre center have camped out on the site for months. The forested land off Key Road is just outside Atlanta city limits in southwest DeKalb County, but is owned by the city.

Police Assistant Chief Darin Schierbaum told reporters Tuesday afternoon that officers were trying to clear structures on the site that activists had built, as construction contractors looked to do work on the land. He said some people also threw rocks at the officers.

A large police presence, including officers from Atlanta, DeKalb County, the Georgia State Patrol, the GBI and the FBI, descended on the site and closed off the street.

Police make arrests Tuesday, May 17, 2022, at encampment of opposition to the massive training center planned for Atlanta’s police officers and firefighters. (John Spink/ John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: John Spink /John.Spink@ajc.com

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Credit: John Spink /John.Spink@ajc.com

“We do know there’s other people that are on the property now. We’re asking them to leave. It is illegal to be on the property,” Schierbaum said Tuesday afternoon. “If those individuals would leave, there would be no arrest.”

It was after Schierbaum’s press conference that police say protesters threw the second Molotov cocktail toward officers. Police said it was also lit, but did not ignite.

Schierbaum told reporters eight people had been arrested, but the department clarified Wednesday that seven people were detained on trespassing charges. They range in age from 23 to 38; one person is from Gainesville, and the remainder are from outside Georgia, including Minnesota and Massachusetts, police said.

Last September the Atlanta City Council voted to lease the land to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build the facility, which is set to include a shooting range, classrooms, a mock village, an emergency vehicle driving course, stables for police horses, and a “burn building” for firefighters to practice putting out blazes. The vote followed weeks of deliberation and pushback from local activists who have nicknamed the project “Cop City.”

Stop Cop City ATL, a group that opposes the center, said in an email early Tuesday afternoon that police were “raiding” the encampment and “police are continuing to escalate.”

Protests opposing the $90 million project have continued in recent months, and a group known as “forest defenders” set up camp on the site, building barricades and at least one treehouse and sabotaging construction equipment.

Protesters say they are are worried about the environmental impacts of the massive project around the South River, and have criticized the continued investment into policing following social justice movements over the last few years.

Police foundation officials said they are intent on moving the project forward with the city’s backing, telling The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year that as crews begin construction, anyone trespassing on the site would be arrested.

Over the last few months, protesters have targeted corporations across metro Atlanta that are helping to fund the center, as well as construction contractors working with the police foundation.

Schierbaum said the FBI is investigating “attempts of intimidation.”

Tuesday afternoon, activists held a press conference to denounce the arrests and the building of the training center. They specifically decried arrests made by APD officers at a protest Saturday afternoon at Freedom Park, saying the police department is trying to intimidate critics.

“It seems clear that the police are resorting to more and more extreme tactics,” said Marlon Kautz of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a local group that helps protesters who have been arrested.

Local activists have camped out on the site of the proposed training center for months.

Credit: John Spink

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Credit: John Spink