ATLANTA - Atlanta Police say dozens of "violent agitators" left a nearby music festival on Sunday evening, changed into all black clothing in the woods, and then violently confronted officers at the site of the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
Police released video on Monday taken from their air unit and from nearby surveillance cameras of the mob on the site of what opponents call "cop city." The video shows a group of people walking along the high-tension power lines, which splits the DeKalb County property into two.
Officers, who have been guarding the site for weeks now, can be seen running away from the construction staging area as smoke begins to rise and the crowd runs closer. Aerial video shows members of the group topple over some of the equipment as the site becomes overrun with protesters.
Atlanta Police say a group of 'violent agitators' left an area music festival and changed in the woods before charging the future site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center on March 5, 2023. (Atlanta Police Department)
Officers cross the street and try to lock the gates behind them, waiting for backup to arrive. Several members of the civilian group take up defensive postures using makeshift riot shields at the entrance to the site. As a police SUV arrives at the scene, two members of the group can be seen lobbing two smoking objects at the officers, which explode just feet away from them.
More cruisers can be seen pulling up to the scene, as officers continue to try to lock the gate. Another round of explosive devices is then thrown toward the officers.
Grass fires begin to breakout after police say Molotov cocktails were thrown.
Police say some in the group also threw large rocks and bricks at officers and destroyed several pieces of construction equipment using fire and other means.
No one was injured.
23 arrested at Atlanta Public Safety Training Center site for domestic terrorism
Police say 23 "rioters" now face domestic terrorism charges after they waged a "coordinated attack" on law enforcement officers at the site of the future public safety training facility.
"It was a very violent attack, very violent attack. This wasn't about a public safety center. This was about anarchy, and this was about the attempt to destabilize," Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said.
FOX 5 has learned most of those charged live out of state.
Only two are from Georgia. According to authorities, some traveled from other countries including France and Canada.
Zoe Larmey (Atlanta Police Department)
State Attorney General Chris Carr commented on the arrests Monday, saying the suspects are part of a national network, an international group of people that are organized and coming to Georgia to undermine plans to build the controversial facility.
Officials say dozens of rioters struck Monday afternoon, moving under the cover of a peaceful protest of the project they have dubbed "cop city".
A trooper told FOX 5 that a protestor threw a Molotov cocktail. (Credit: FOX 5 Photojournalist Billy Heath)
Atlanta police, assisted by numerous law enforcement agencies, fanned out into the woods and detained 35 people.
On Monday, officials announced they had charged 23 of those detained with domestic terrorism.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is the agency of record which filed the charges.
The FBI is now investigating to see if any members of the group violated federal law.
The defendants are scheduled to make their first court appearance Tuesday.
Who were the people wearing green hats at the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center riot?
The National Lawyers Guild sent at least two legal observer volunteers to the protest to "monitor and document police conduct and arrests at protests."
The observers can be spotted in the police-released video by their lime-green hats. The observers can be seen unmasked, standing behind a fence, watching protesters.
Two legal observers wearing lime-green hats were seen during a protest at the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center site on March 5, 2023. (Atlanta Police Department)
The Southern Poverty Law Center and NLG say one of those observers was arrested on Sunday.
In a statement released Monday, the NLG wrote:
"Law enforcement detained at least 35 demonstrators in Atlanta on Sunday, including an NLG Legal Observer. All of these arrests are part of ongoing state repression and violence against racial and environmental justice protesters, who are fighting to defend their communities from the harms of militarized policing and environmental degradation. Each of these instances, including the many protesters charged with domestic terrorism, make clear that law enforcement views movement activists as enemies of the state."
"As trained witnesses of police conduct, NLG Legal Observers serve an important role in supporting movement organizers and activists. NLG is proud to contribute in whatever ways we can to advancing the critical work of our movement allies advocating for liberation and community care. NLG remains in solidarity with the movement to Stop Cop City."
The Southern Poverty Law Center released a concurring statement:
"An employee at the SPLC was arrested while acting — and identifying — as a legal observer on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). The employee is an experienced legal observer, and their arrest is not evidence of any crime, but of heavy-handed law enforcement intervention against protesters."
"This is part of a months-long escalation of policing tactics against protesters and observers who oppose the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest to build a police training facility. The SPLC has and will continue to urge de-escalation of violence and police use of force against Black, Brown and Indigenous communities — working in partnership with these communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people."
Where is the "Cop City" Atlanta Public Safety Training Center location?
The Atlanta Police Foundation, the major force behind the project, owns the 380-acre tract of land on which the future Atlanta Safety Training Center will be located. It is centered along Intrenchment Creek in DeKalb County.
The entrance to the facility will be located along Key Road, just west of high-tension power lines which cut through the property. The property that will be developed is bordered by those power lines along the east, Key Road to Fayetteville Road, along the north, to Old Constitution Road to Constitution Road to the Metro Detention Center, along the west and south.
How big will the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center be?
Only 22% of the land owned by the Atlanta Police Foundation will be developed for the training center. That is less than 85 acres. The remainder will be set aside as greenspace.
To offer some perspective on the size of land, here are the size of some other nearby properties.
- Walmart located along Gresham Road at I-20 – 27 acres
- Ronald McNair High School – 36 acres
- South DeKalb Mall – 52 acres
- Georgia State University – 110 acres
- Clark Atlanta University – 126 acres
- Sugar Creek Golf Course – 323 acres
The planned Atlanta training facility is more than twice the size of the NYPD facility in Queens or the training center for Chicago police, both of which are less than 35 acres. However, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Las Vegas all have much larger facilities, according to the Atlanta Police Foundation.