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6 Arrested After Atlanta Protests Over Controversial ‘cop City’ and Fatal Police Shooting of Activist

Authorities reported six individuals were arrested Saturday evening in downtown Atlanta following protests in response to a proposed police training facility and the fatal police shooting of an activist earlier in the week.

The demonstrators marched in a “peaceful manner” down a central Atlanta street Saturday evening, but a group inside the throng eventually began “committing illegal activities,” including shattering windows and hitting police cruisers, according to Atlanta Police Chief Darryl Schierbaum.

According to the chief, police arrested six persons and were continuing to investigate whether there were any additional people involved in criminal behavior. Three establishments had their windows damaged, he added. A police cruiser on fire was seen on social media in the downtown area, and a video from CNN affiliate WANF showed damaged windows at a Wells Fargo bank.

Protests are being held in opposition to a proposed $90 million, 85-acre law enforcement training facility, called “Cop City” by opponents, and just days after the police killed a 26-year-old protester near the training center.

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Atlanta wants to construct a large police training center in the middle of a forest. Neighbors are fighting back. CNN has reached out to a local anti-project campaign for comment. Some of those arrested on Saturday had “previously been involved in other criminal activities and are participating in a manner that will hinder the construction of the public safety training center,” according to Schierbaum.

“My message to those who desire to perpetuate this type of criminal behavior is simple,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens stated during a news conference. “We will track you down, arrest you, and hold you accountable.” Dickens was one of the city council members who supported the training facility in 2021.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also commented on Twitter “Acts of violence and unlawful property destruction are not protests. These are crimes that will not be condoned in Georgia and will be vigorously prosecuted.” During the press conference, Dickens stated that many of those detained “do not even live in Atlanta or the state of Georgia,” and that some were discovered “with bombs.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens stated during a press conference on Saturday that the order had been “restored.” The mother of a slain activist is enraged and ‘powerless.’ The protester was fatally shot by police on Wednesday morning, during what authorities described as a clearing operation to remove people from the planned facility’s location.

For months, opponents of the facility have camped out in the neighborhood, attempting to block development. According to a news release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, law enforcement authorities observed a subject in a tent in the woods and provided verbal directions, but the individual allegedly did not cooperate and shot a Georgia State Patrol Trooper.

Officers returned fire, killing the individual. According to the GBI, a firearm found from the suspect matched the projectile from the trooper’s wound. Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, the victim, was recognized. Terán, according to activists affiliated with protesting organizations who deny law enforcement’s story, was a “forest defender” fighting environmental racism.

Terán, also known as Tortuguita and identifying as nonbinary, was described as a “lovely, loving, very smart, and caring” individual by local justice organizations. Terán’s mother told CNN via phone Saturday night that she was upset and powerless in the aftermath of her son’s death. Belkis Terán, speaking from Panamá City, Panamá, expressed her skepticism about law enforcement’s account of the incident, adding, “I know they stated he shot first, but I don’t believe it.”

“He was attacked,” she continued. While police authorities said Terán possessed a gun, the activist’s mother claimed she was unaware of this and that, “If he had one, it was to defend himself against the animals in the forest. That’s what I’m getting at.”

“He was not a violent individual. He believed in peace. That was something dad always said to me. ‘I am a pacifist,’ she says. He would never harm an animal “CNN spoke with Belkis Terán. The mother explained that Terán’s nickname, “Tortuguita,” sprang from their love of turtle conservation.

Terán was described by their mom as a generous, “sweet spirit” who had always helped others since he was a child. According to police, the injured trooper was brought to a local hospital for surgery and was in stable condition as of Wednesday night.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety stated that releasing the trooper’s identity would jeopardize security against criminal or terroristic acts in retribution. Furthermore, the GBI stated that during its clearing operation on Wednesday, it discovered and removed approximately 25 campsites, as well as arrested and charged seven persons with domestic terrorism and criminal trespass.

Authorities discovered “mortar-style fireworks, several edged weapons, pellet rifles, gas masks, and a blow torch,” according to the report. According to the Atlanta Police Foundation, the planned training center is necessary to increase morale and recruitment efforts, because prior facilities used by law enforcement are subpar.

However, the facility, which will include a shooting range, a simulated city, and a burning structure, has been faced with strong opposition. While some critics saw the proposal as a response to the 2020 protests against police brutality and racial inequality, municipal officials have stated that the center will also help address police reform, but have not provided any information.

Some locals have also accused the city of blindsiding neighbors with a mainly clandestine development process that has received little community involvement. According to city authorities, taxpayers will pay around $30 million of the facility’s cost, with the remainder coming from private charitable and corporate gifts.

Activists have also long raised alarm about the project’s environmental impact: the training center will cut through the forested territory, fragmenting what local supporters hope will become a network of connected green spaces across Atlanta and DeKalb County.

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