TORPY: ‘Burning (stuff) is cool.’ Training center foes’ tactics heat up

‘This is not civil disobedience, this is abject criminality,’ council member says
Multiple work vehicles owned by Ernst Concrete were found burning behind the business Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. Fire officials said they believe arson to be the cause. (Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services)

Credit: Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services

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Multiple work vehicles owned by Ernst Concrete were found burning behind the business Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. Fire officials said they believe arson to be the cause. (Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services)

Credit: Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services

On Monday, I visited southeast DeKalb County to view the protest against Atlanta’s public safety training center, which is about 40 percent complete and expected to open in about a year.

The “Block Cop City” crowd promised a non-violent demonstration and came equipped with tree-planting shovels and oversized puppets because nothing says Peaceful Protest like large papier-mâché figures wobbling in the wind.

The police presence was overwhelming. Some 30 Fulton County sheriff’s vehicles in one long line streamed into the facility’s northern entrance. Near the southern end, on Constitution Road, there were at least 50 vehicles from numerous agencies, including a behemoth Army-style truck with a battering ram. In front of them were perhaps 50 officers in full riot gear. They had just teargassed protestors who had continually pushed at them in the street.

After the events, a social media post explained that protestors wore dull, matching clothes, “To make it more difficult for police to target vulnerable people in the crowd.”

Or perhaps those doing something criminal.

They also turned banners into reinforced shields and formed a V-shaped wedge because the formation worked so well in rugby and old-timey American football that they banned it.



It was clear the demonstrators wouldn’t get anywhere near the construction site because authorities didn’t want a repeat of what happened in March. That’s when protestors held a concert in the woods, which helped cover up a sneak attack on the training site. Construction machinery ended up in flames.

And certainly no one wants a repeat of the incident in January, when an activist authorities say fired first was fatally shot.

This time, I figured that protestors would march, chant and tie up lots of cops through the day. Perhaps they’d goad police into reacting, giving them some good video footage and a reason to paint themselves as victims, which is their currency.

These folks see themselves as fighters in an asymmetric war and prefer “soft targets.” And the training center is just too hard.

My guess was the secretive mask-wearing anarchist wing would do something in the middle of the night somewhere down the line. Perhaps late Thanksgiving night, after the cops’ turkey tryptophan kicked in.

Instead, early Tuesday, a faction of extremists crept onto the grounds of Ernst Concrete in Gwinnett County and torched a bunch of vehicles.

An anonymously authored online post, “Make Contractors Afraid Again,” gleefully noted the company’s site was “completely unguarded” and that “sneaking around at night is fun and burning (stuff) is cool.”

“There was a time when contractors were afraid to take on this project,” the post read. “If we can make the cost of the contract greater than the profit, they will drop it.”

The post carried a list of the company’s other locations and encouraged similarly mal-suited individuals to get creative. Incidentally, Ernst put out a statement saying it is not involved in the construction of the training facility.

Credit: Arvin Temkar

Credit: Arvin Temkar

The arson was the latest in a string of destructive incidents. Earlier this year, several motorcycles were torched at the Atlanta Police Training Academy. Last year, the home of an Alabama construction executive was vandalized. Authorities have also investigated the vandalizing of offices, destruction of equipment and threats to contractors.

An online post titled “Uncover Cop City” noted that since 2021, companies working at the training center site have become targets of intimidation “through call-in campaigns, home and office demonstrations, and clandestine sabotage.”

The writer posted addresses of the many branch offices of the company insuring the training center.

It’s like a gangster threatening a shake-down target, “Ya got a real nice bizness here. Be a shame if sumtin’ happened to it.”

Of course, the “Stop Cop City” crowd — or “Block Cop City,” it gets confusing — did little to distance themselves from the late-night violence.

A spokesman for Block Cop City, which organized the march and some preceding weekend events, said in a statement, “The Clean Water Act enforcement lawsuit (the latest round of litigation) and the anonymous action that took place against Ernst Concrete are separate, inspiring contributions to the movement to Stop Cop City. Neither the lawsuit nor action have any connection to the Block Cop City mobilization but all are contributing to the same important goal.”

Yep, blazing cement mixers are titillating.

Training center foes argue it will make police even scarier and racist, although it was a majority Black city council who overwhelmingly approved the plan. It’s called the democratic process. You don’t like elected officials’ actions, vote ‘em out.

Instead, the movement has shot itself in the foot. I had sympathy for some of the 61 people wrapped up in a state racketeering case. Some were overcharged. But after this latest incident?

“This is not civil disobedience, this is abject criminality,” said Atlanta Councilman Michael Bond, whose father, the late state legislator Julian Bond, was a civil rights leader who cofounded the Southern Poverty Law Center and for years served as head of the NAACP.

Bond said “Stop Cop City” has tried to create a veneer of respectability, but he added, “They are in bed with people committed to committing acts of violence and have promised to do more. The more they do this, the more they are digging their defeat.”

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