(ATLANTA) — Police and protesters clashed on Monday near the construction site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training facility that has been dubbed “Cop City” by critics.
Protesters began marching toward the site this morning after a weekend of preparations to “bring construction to a halt,” organizers say.
In an online statement, DeKalb County police protesters “began an unpermitted march …blocking two of four lanes of traffic” at 10:30 a.m.
“We were part of the way there on a road when we encountered a large line of police. We tried to non-violently get past them, and they responded with violence,” said Block Cop City spokesperson Jamie Peck.
DeKalb County officials say they informed protesters that they were obstructing the road and would not be permitted to move forward.
“The protesters ignored the commands by DeKalb County Police & began to force their way through a line of 30 DeKalb County Police officers,” the police department said in a statement.
Peck said that protesters were then beaten, sprayed with pepper spray and that medics helping others were targeted by police. Peck added that flashbang grenades were also used against the crowd.
“They shot us with flashbang grenades, which are designed to terrify people as if they are in a war zone,” said Peck.
Police confirmed that tear gas canisters were used to disperse the protesters.
No injuries have been reported and no arrests have been made as of noon, said the department.
One of the critiques held against the new training center is that it could lead to greater police militarization.
Protesters argue today’s incident proves it, pointing to past claims from the police department officials “claiming that the cops would protect peaceful protesters who were exercising their First Amendment right to protest and they showed us that is patently untrue,” said Peck.
Construction of the 85-acre, $90 million facility is ongoing, and is set to be completed by December 2024.
The center will include an “auditorium for police/fire and public use,” a “mock city for burn building training and urban police training,” an “Emergency Vehicle Operator Course for emergency vehicle driver training,” a K-9 unit kennel and training, according to the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center’s website.
The larger movement against the center, called Stop Cop City, has been ongoing for the last two years, arguing that the center will both militarize the police force and impact the South River Forest.
Controversy around the center escalated when a protester, Manuel Esteban Páez Terán, who used they/them pronouns, was shot and killed by police as they raided the campground occupied by demonstrators in January. Officials say the protester fired the first shot at a state trooper, and the officer responded with the fatal shot.
The Atlanta Police Foundation, a nonprofit that’s supporting the center’s construction, has said the center will promote “first-rate training.”
“Policing and firefighting are continually evolving,” a statement on their website reads. “In late 2024, Atlanta’s citizens will have law enforcement agencies whose cultural, operational and community training regimens will be the best in the nation.”
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