A volatile scene erupted in Atlanta Tuesday when five people were taken into custody and charged with domestic terrorism in connection to protests at the future site of a police training facility, according to a press release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).
The law enforcement agency noted that the individuals arrested in the incident hail from across the country, including from states as far away as California, Wisconsin, and Maine.
The GBI stated that the arrests resulted from the agency's participation in a joint task force assembled to address ongoing issues on property designated for the development of what will be the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
As CNN noted, the center is intended to be the home of state-of-the-art law enforcement training resources that will include a mock city, a burn building, and a shooting range.
The project, pejoratively referred to as “Cop City” by some, has been the subject of significant controversy among activists who oppose using the 85-acre parcel for the purpose of training police officers.
The hostility of those protesters apparently overflowed this week after local, state, and task force members attempted to remove barricades that demonstrators had erected as a means to block entrances to the area.
Authorities have also been forced to take action to remove activists who had camped in trees on the site, with some of those individuals reportedly throwing rocks at police vehicles and assaulting emergency medical technicians on the scene.
As a result of the encounters, Serena Hertel, Francis Carroll, Arieon Robinson, Nicholas Olsen, and Leonard Vioselle, all in their 20s, were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism and an assortment of other offenses including interference with government property, obstruction, and inciting a riot.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp was quick to praise the law enforcement officers who conducted the arrests, saying in a statement, “We will not stop or slow down when it comes to bringing domestic terrorists to justice in Georgia, and yesterday's arrests should serve as a strong reminder of that to anyone threatening our communities.”
“This group will continue to work closely together as we disrupt the entire criminal network and ensure construction for the first responder training facility moves forward,” Kemp added.
Though the Atlanta Police Foundation has contended that the center is critical for boosting sagging morale among law enforcement officers and aiding in recruitment initiatives, those standing against its construction had a very different reaction to Kemp's in the wake of Tuesday's arrests.
“This fight will continue and it's important for all of us to get involved and rally around all of those who were arrested,” stated Jasmine Burnett of Community Movement Builders, as Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB reported.
Marlin Katz of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund also took issue with the way in which law enforcement responded this week, saying, “The Atlanta Police Department is using plastic bullets and pepper spray against unarmed, non-violent political protesters.”
Tuesday's clash and subsequent protester arrests represent the latest in an ongoing struggle between proponents of the center and those who believe it has no place in DeKalb County.
As WSB reported separately, during the summer, demonstrators were arrested for tossing a Molotov cocktail at officers during a police raid of an unauthorized camp at the project site, and just this past weekend, firefighters who were tackling a dumpster fire on the property were also attacked by protesters.
Activists argue that they are attempting to preserve the natural landscape and thwart what they view as unnecessary and inappropriate expenditures on agencies already embroiled in police brutality and racial justice controversies.
“This is about a group of people protesting a military facility by putting on art events and about police using military-grade tear gas pepper balls to try to get people out of the forest,” a protester who identified himself only as “Lorin” explained to CBS News.
“I grew up in Decatur playing in the forest. That was my childhood. If this facility is built, it's going to make flooding worse in the area and throughout the city. It's going to worsen our air pollution,” Lorin added, but whether his concerns and those of others like him will succeed in derailing the project, only time will tell.