Police and prosecutors have been lying to the public and to judges in their effort to justify outrageous, sensational charges against environmental activists who oppose a police training facility development in Georgia.
The Atlanta Solidarity Fund said police who brought terrorism charges against Stop Cop City protesters justified those allegations by claiming that a group, Defend the Atlanta Forest, had been designated a “domestic violent extremist organization” by federal officials.
“This was a lie,” insisted the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. “DHS never designated any movement-aligned org in any way.”
“The public has a long process ahead of unraveling the tangle of lies, distortions, and coverups that police, prosecutors, and their private backers have woven to suppress the right to protest,” said the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. “We are determined to follow that thread to its end. Injustice cannot go unchallenged.”
Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, a 26-year-old activist was killed by police in a 300-acre forest where he was among protesters tying to prevent the area from being developed into a massive police training facility.
Police say that Paez Teran fired a bullet that struck an officer on Jan. 18 and that police then shot and killed the Venezuela native.
The death was followed by a violent protest in downtown Atlanta over the weekend in response, which has become the latest flash point between protesters and police after Atlanta was rocked by racial justice protests in 2020.
Governor Brian Kemp is said to be mobilizing the National Guard to pre-emptively suppress protests over the murder of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old African-American man who died on January 10, 2023, three days after he was beaten during a traffic stop by officers from the Memphis Police Department.
On January 26, 2023, all five of the involved Tennessee officers were arrested and charged with murder and other crimes.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said the actions of the officers involved was “a failing of basic humanity” and announced that the five officers involved – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith – all of whom are African Americans – would be fired.
President Biden released a statement reacting to the death of Tyre Nichols, stating that the incident is a “painful reminder” of work that needs to be done within the criminal justice system.
Memphis police are expected to release body camera video of the incident on Friday, but Kemp’s call for military troops to confront anticipated protesters reeks of overreaction and escalation instead of responsible leadership in an emotional situation.
Over the last two years, Atlanta has spoken out against the proposed Cop City training facility and the associated destruction of Atlanta’s forests.
“During this time we have seen a dangerous escalation of protest suppression and police aggression against protesters: from the first arrests of eleven peaceful protesters snatched off the sidewalk during the City Council vote approving Cop City, to the continued raids against tree sitters camped out in public parks, to the mass arrest of twenty non-violent protesters and journalists in Inman Park,” said the civil rights organization.
“The Atlanta Solidarity Fund has supported over sixty people arrested for protesting the proposed Cop City development, and we are committed to supporting all protesters arrested for standing up for their beliefs and fighting for a more just world,” said the civil From the beginning, the Atlanta Police Department has aggressively arrested and persecuted protesters in this movement.”
Repression has increased dramatically over the last few months, as the local government moves to push the Cop City development forward despite all public opposition,” said the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. “The divisive and violent rhetoric of labeling environmental and racial justice protesters as ‘domestic terrorists’ is a dangerous precedent, designed to stifle public opposition and scare anyone concerned about police militarization and climate change away from protesting. “
“This is the anti-democratic ‘chilling effect’ in action: creating a political climate where citizens are too scared to exercise their right to speak up against injustice, to organize, and to take action,” said the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. “This alarming escalation of violence and repression against political speech and activity has been bolstered at the state level by Governor Brian Kemp, who is exerting tremendous pressure on city and county governments to clamp down on opposition to the Cop City project. In practical terms, this means egregious bail amounts for protesters, trumped up charges, and now the death of an activist.”
The state is trying to set an alarming precedent. If they are successful, protesters across the country could be facing similar speech-chilling ‘domestic terrorism’ charges. We must strongly reject this extreme level of repression here and now, before it becomes the norm for activists in every movement,” said the Atlanta Solidarity Fund.
On Saturday, January 21st, six people were arrested after protests in response to the death of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran. We have reason to believe these activists were arrested at random during the march.
All six face the same blanket charges – they are being held responsible for committing the same crime by virtue of simply being present at a protest where property damage occurred. We expect these charges will not hold up in court, and we are committed to helping these individuals fight their cases all the way through the legal process.
At a hearing on Monday, January 23rd, bail was denied for four of these arrestees in an effort to keep protesters off the streets.
The dispute over the training facility has also sparked a heated debate over the state’s application of a relatively new law being used to charge over a dozen protesters with the crime of “domestic terrorism.” The 2017 state law can be used against those who “disable or destroy” critical infrastructure, “intimidate” civilians or “affect the conduct of the government.”
Free-speech advocates and civil liberties leaders say the law is so broad it in effect can be used to stifle even peaceful forms of dissent. It also carries a harsh penalty: a maximum sentence of 35 years behind bars.
Two of the arrestees were granted bond at the unprecedented cost of $355,000 each, along with onerous bail conditions including ankle monitors and curfews. These are punitive measures intended to isolate activists and drain their emotional and financial resources, and an attempt to use the legal process to punish activists with the full knowledge that these charges stand little chance of a conviction at trial.
The Atlanta Solidarity Fund remains committed to supporting all protesters arrested for standing up for social justice, and we need your help to continue doing what we do best: supporting activists with bail and legal counsel for as long as necessary. We are also supporting civil litigation against unjust arrests and police violence, including an independent investigation into the death of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran.