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The Georgia attorney general used the state’s anti-racketeering law (Rico) to target the protesters. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA
Five Atlanta residents and one journalist have filed multiple lawsuits against the City of Atlanta and the police after being unlawfully arrested during a Stop Cop City protest on Sept. 8, 2021. The residents were marching through an East Atlanta neighborhood, holding signs and chanting, when the Atlanta Police Department tackled, arrested, and subsequently jailed them at the Atlanta City Detention Center. They were charged with a traffic citation for “pedestrian in roadway,” despite it being a minor offense typically associated with jaywalking. The Atlanta residents allege that the police used this charge to unlawfully interfere with and suppress the protest due to their personal interest in ‘Cop City’s construction.
“As we protested police violence and the use of public resources to build Cop City, the police held their own counter-protest. They were out there to intimidate us and criminalize our beliefs, not to protect our rights,” says one of the Atlantans filing for wrongful arrest.
The incident occurred on Sept. 8, 2021, coinciding with the city council vote on the Cop City lease through a zoom meeting. Public comment on Cop City lasted for a record-breaking 17 hours, highlighting the strong opposition from Atlantans. As council members voted on Cop City, protesters gathered outside their residences, expressing their dissent through chants and signs. 10 protesters and a journalist were present outside former city council member Natalyn Archibong’s home. Archibong stated that she did not call the police nor request the protesters to leave. However, despite the protestors asserting their right to gather, the police carried out aggressive arrests, detaining everyone on site, including a journalist who was covering the event.
Leading up to the City Council’s vote on the lease of 381-acres of public forested land to the Atlanta Police Foundation, Atlantans expressed their overwhelming opposition to Cop City through various means, including city council meetings, protests, phone campaigns, NPU meetings, canvassing efforts, and community events in the Weelaunee Forest. The message was clear: the community wanted to protect the forest and rejected the construction of Cop City. Instead of acknowledging community concerns, the City and the police chose to ignore and criminalize those who dissented.
“The arrests that night were not because we were engaging in any illegal activities. It was a deliberate attempt to silence us,” said one of the individuals filing a lawsuit. “This criminalization of protest is aimed at preventing us from raising awareness about how city officials are compromising public land and tax dollars for the benefit of the Atlanta Police Foundation and its business associates. They profit at the expense of Atlanta’s watershed and the Welaunee forest.”
While Atlantan and Dekalb Residents spent time collecting over 116,000 signatures to gauge public support, APD’s primary tactic of ‘advocacy’ and guaranteeing political success has been repression. In addition to the tragic killing of Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, an unarmed forest occupier, over 60 people have faced charges this year under organized criminal conspiracy offenses.
“We hope that our lawsuits will set a legal precedent for all those who have been targeted by the police during the Stop Cop City movement,” stated one of the plaintiffs. “Nobody involved in this movement deserves to be swallowed up by the American Prison System and isolated from their communities. For those of us who were not charged within the R.I.C.O. prosecution, we will continue to advocate on their behalf.”