Five individuals protesting against a controversial police training center were arrested after chaining themselves to a bulldozer on Thursday.
The protest comes two days after Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced a massive RICO indictment against 61 individuals they allege are “militant anarchists” seeking to block the Atlanta Public Safety Training Facility from being built. The five arrested who chained themselves to a bulldozer, along with roughly 25 other protestors, were able to stop construction of the site for more than an hour implementing what they referred to as a “people’s stop-work order.”
Activists and community members have expressed their concerns over a large training facility, which they have unaffectionately dubbed “Cop City.” The effort to “#StopCopCity” is an autonomous movement made up of individuals from various backgrounds who disapprove of the site for multiple interwoven causes — including police militarization that will likely be used unfairly against people of color, environmental harm and building the site on native land.
The Atlanta Police Department said in a statement that each of the individuals chained to the bulldozer — Lalita Martin, Timothy Sullivan, Ayeola Whitworth, David Dunn and Jeffrey Jones — were each taken into custody “without incident.”
The five of them, who range across various demographics from 25 to 65 years of age, were each charged with Trespassing and Obstruction. Martin received an additional charge of Reckless Conduct.
“This is a war happening against protesters,” Ayeola Omolara Kaplan, one of the five activists arrested, told the Atlanta Community Press Collective in a written statement. “If we don’t stand up for our right to protest now, standing up in the future will be vain. Cop City is in the process of being built, and this can only continue if we allow it.”
Videos circulating on social media show the chained protestors explaining what led them to protest on Thursday.
“We are religious people here, guided by our faith to stand up and protect the land. We are supported by our community, which are right there. We are here with the support of not just the people, but the forest and the environmental protection movement globally,” one organizer said on a video posted by the ACPC.
“Sixty-one people are being charged for racketeering,” another added. “What’s next? You won’t be able to organize to form any local group, even your local PTA. They’re criminalizing people organizing to push back against whatever they want to do.”
Protests against the facility have been ongoing for roughly two years and have received a boost in media attention after the police killing in January of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, a 26-year-old forest defender whose nickname was Tortuguita. Organizers and community members have repeatedly faced harsh charges throughout the span of the movement.
Hannah Riley, an abolitionist organizer and writer in Atlanta, told GME on the phone Thursday that she commends the bravery of the activists who put their bodies “on the line” while participating in the movement, most recently those who chained themselves to the bulldozer.
“I think direct action like that is incredibly brave. The diversity of tactics fighting Cop City, which includes really putting your body on the line, whether you’re living in the trees that you hope to defend or chaining yourself to the violent machines that are trying to uproot the trees, I find that incredibly brave, especially given that it happened mere hours after a very clearly political indictment of over 60 people,” Riley said.
Riley also slammed the recent indictment, calling it an “embarrassing legal document” that is “nakedly political.”
The RICO charges against the 61 individuals essentially liken the autonomous, multipronged movement to the mafia, which the charges are primarily used against. Recently, the state also used the same charges in the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump and 18 other alleged co-conspirators.