Credit: Riley Bunch / Riley.Bunch@ajc.com
Credit: Riley Bunch / Riley.Bunch@ajc.com
“This is an illegal protest. You need to disperse or you will be arrested,” an officer repeatedly said from a police cruiser.
Minutes after those announcements, the crowd turned and began the trek back to the rec center.
A statement from DeKalb County government said the crowd was dispersed because protestors did not have a permit to block traffic. There were no injuries or arrests reported.
The march was a culmination of a four-day event, billed as a mass mobilization to Atlanta. The weekend was filled with protest training, and opponents began gathering for the march about 8 a.m. Monday morning — intending to march to the site of the controversial, $90 million facility that is currently under construction.
City officials say the new center is necessary to provide world-class training to its officers and firefighters, which are currently using outdated facilities. Opponents fear it will be used to further militarize police and construction will destroy swaths of one of the largest urban forests in the country.
Organizers passed out N95s, water and snacks before the march began. One walked around with sharpies for attendees to write the jail support number on their arms in case of arrest. Two black helicopters circled overhead.
A truck and trailer pulled up filled with large painted creatures — handmade butterflies and dragon heads with smiling teeth. Organizers called it a “multi-person puppet” that was carried with the crowd on their march.
Just before 8:30, the crowd began chanting “Viva viva Tortuguita,” in remembrance of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, who was killed by police in January. The police report says Teran shot at officers first, wounding a trooper, before being killed by return fire. Teran’s family disputes findings from the police investigation into the death.
Teran’s mother, Belkis Teran, said those involved in the movement to stop the construction of the training facility have told her they continue to remember her son, who went by the pronouns they/them. Last month, a special prosecutor assigned to investigate Teran’s death announced that no charges will be filed against the Georgia State Troopers involved.
“Manuel was everyday, doing something for somebody,” she said. “Little by little, all these people were touched by them.”
Sunday night, organizers asked on social media that all participants pledge themselves to a code of conduct that included not bringing weapons or explosives to the event. The pledge also asked protesters to not destroy construction equipment or bring alcohol or illegal drugs to the demonstration. Those pledges were read to the crowd Monday morning just before the march started.
“Having this basic agreement will allow many people to join this action with clarity and trust,” the post said. “These agreements are not philosophical or political requirements asked of any participant, or judgements about the validity of some tactics over others. These basic agreements are meant to create a basis for trust, so we can work together for this mass action and know what to expect from each other that day.”
Violence has erupted at the site before.
In addition to Teran’s death, explosive devices were hurled at police and equipment set on fire during another demonstration.
Dozens of people have been arrested and charged under the state’s racketeering law, and opposition to the facility has garnered world-wide attention and led to a petition drive meant to force a referendum on the issue. The petition effort is currently delayed in court proceedings.
Organizers have said the goal is to halt construction of the $90 million facility and a flyer for the event said: “Cop City Will Never Be Built.” Marchers carried a huge banner in front that read: “We are the people’s stop work order.”
City officials say construction is about 40% complete.
“We will protect ourselves and each other from police violence,” is the last pledge on the list.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said that the city is monitoring the ongoing situation.
“The City supports the First Amendment and worked with local activists to proactively develop guidelines for the safety of all involved,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “Today, several of the protesters showed up in DeKalb County with PPE, weapons and clear intent to carry out violence.”
Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum held a news conference Monday evening, at which a number of “weapons” were displayed, including shovels, a gas mask and bolt cutters which the chief said would have been used to breach the site if protesters had made it through. Reporters witnessed marchers using shovels to plant trees.
Schierbaum also said DeKalb County Police made one arrest, but was unable to provide details.
“This is not a group that has the best interests of Atlanta at heart. This is a group, today, that left Gresham Park prepared to breach the site, prepared to do harm, prepared to do destruction,” Schierbaum said, before calling protesters members of Antifa.
Kamau Franklin with community movement builders addressed the gathering crowd Monday morning: “As we know the struggle to stop cop city is ongoing and it takes many tactics and strategies to stop it from being built. We’ve been out here for over two years fighting to stop cop city.
“We stand here to say today is not a time for cowards. It’s not a time for cowardness. We have to make choices. You’re either with the oppressed or with the oppressor.”