A planned $90 million police training site in Atlanta has become entangled in increasing controversy since Antifa protesters moved in to obstruct it, but what is the project and why is it at the center of a storm?
Tensions boiled over on January 18 when one extreme protester was shot dead by a Georgia state trooper. Police say Manuel Esteban Paez Teran shot first as they worked to clear the area – the protesters arrested in that operation face domestic terrorism charges.
Atlanta Police’s huge construction project was announced in November 2021 and is expected to open at the end of 2023 after a difficult two-year process. It will have extensive facilities and a mock city and fire station so emergency services can better train their staff.
Police bosses says the project is essential, but Antifa extremists are determined to scupper it – some traveled thousands of miles to interfere with the construction of what they dub ‘Cop City’. The site is in a largely black community and residents, who are struggling to get their voices heard, describe it as a ‘complex issue’.
Police deny the protests have caused a huge delay to the site’s opening, but the fatal shooting – a private autopsy showed Paez Teran was shot 13 times – has turned a toxic dispute into a violent struggle.
A mock city will be included in the new site, which has been the cause of months of unrest and controversy
Georgia State Police officers carried out a clearing operation on Monday and were pictured moving through the forest, but made no arrests
It will have stables and a canine unit, as well as facilities for the emergency services to be able to train their staff better – with police bosses arguing their training needs need to be addressed
The large-scale construction will be used to train officials from the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Fire and Rescue Department
Demonstrators, who have set up a group called ‘Stop Cop City’, say the 381 acres of Weelaunee Forest is ‘stolen Muscogee land’ and that the creation would mean the destruction of wildlife and forestry.
Extremists who call themselves the ‘Forest Defenders’ have become increasingly violent in recent weeks, throwing rocks and even Molotov cocktails at police and contractors at the site.
Militant environmentalists say they are trying to protect the forest, as well as the South River, which is endangered.
Members of the South River Watershed Alliance have worked for years to preserve the area, and say the training center can be created without destroying the surroundings.
Jacqueline Echols, the board president of the South River Watershed Alliance, said in a statement: ‘I remain steadfast in my belief that the desired training can be accomplished without destroying the acreage at the prison farm.
‘Balanced and equitable consideration must be given to the protection of the local ecosystem, the cultural and historical significance of the property, and health and wellbeing of the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.’
According to the Mayor of Atlanta, both departments are currently using ‘insufficient and aging facilities that impede proper training’
The city will contribute $1 million a year to the project for about 30 years beginning in fiscal year 2024 or a single contribution
The organization also says that they support a ‘thorough investigation’ of the fatal shooting of Paez Teran by police.
Stop Cop City activists say that the City of Atlanta has ‘leased’ the land – something the Mayor’s office has denied, saying that the City in unincorporated DeKalb County owns it.
It stretches 85 acres into DeKalb County woods and is known as the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, where prisoners would work in poor conditions in the 20th century.
Prisoners helped to make the facility self-sustaining in 1935, with the penitentiary being officially shuttered in 1995. It has been abandoned ever since.
Devastating fires also hit the property in 2009 and 2017 – illegal trash had been dumped and caused a huge blaze, which meant the site was sealed off until the plans for the training site were approved.
The large-scale construction will be used to train officials from the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Fire and Rescue Department.
According to the Mayor of Atlanta, both departments are currently using ‘insufficient and aging facilities that impede proper training.’
It will include:
- An Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) for fire and police driving training;
- A training and education center with modular design enabling classroom, auditorium, seminar education and training;
- Academy housing for police, fire/rescue recruits;
- The Atlanta Police Leadership Institute;
- Indoor and outdoor shooting ranges;
- A fitness center for sworn officers;
- Stables and pastureland to house for mounted patrol;
- A kennel and indoor/outdoor training center for canine unit;
- Greenspace open to the public, featuring trails, ballfields, picnic areas;
- Facilities available for rent to law enforcement agencies and the public; and
- A community watch training program for our communities.
Violent protests erupted in Atlanta, Georgia, following the shooting of 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran
The site has been targeted by protesters – as residents say it is a ‘complex issue’ after a domestic terrorist was shot 13 times by Georgia State officers
Extremists who call themselves the ‘Forest Defenders’ have become increasingly violent in recent weeks, throwing rocks and even Molotov cocktails at police and contractors at the site
In an announcement on January 31, shortly after the fatal clash between protesters and police, the City said that the center was key for training in ‘ de-escalation techniques, mental health, community-oriented-policing, crisis intervention training as well as Civil Rights history education.’
The former Mayor Bottoms said that the project was a ‘sensible reform’ and necessary to boost morale when the decision was announced in 2021.
She said: ‘If we want the best, most well-trained officers protecting our communities, then we have to make sure we have a facility that offers that.’
To try to ease tensions between the extremists and police, Mayor Dickens also announced a plan to ‘prioritize environmental protection and expansion of protected greenspace.’
He said: ‘The city of Atlanta has the most extensive training requirements in the southeast, our training includes vital areas like desecration training techniques, mental health, community-oriented policing, crisis intervention training as well as civil rights history education.
‘This training needs space and that’s exactly what this training center is going to offer.’
The Atlanta Police Foundation has also committed to replacing any hardwood tree destroyed in construction with over 100 new hardwoods, as well as replacing any invasive species trees with new hardwood plantings.
City officials say the training center would be funded in part by the APF through ‘philanthropic and corporate donations,’ with the city contributing $1 million a year to the project for about 30 years beginning in fiscal year 2024.
As part of a consultation with residents, the city has pledged to also add a minimum 100-foot tree buffer along the residential-facing aspects of the facility and add a pavilion that will be accessible to the community.
They also plan on moving the prospective firing range to the southern portion of the site, closest to the industrial park and away from residential areas.
Residents have been split with opinions on the site, for agricultural and political reasons.
Four other protesters were arrested at the scene and taken to DeKalb County Jail and have not been identified
Authorities protesters, dressed all in black, threw rocks at a building that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation in a protest
Mayor Dickens announced a plan to ‘prioritize environmental protection and expansion of protected greenspace’
Former US Marine Spencer Gould, 48, who lives on Boulder Walk, which borders the prospective site, told DailyMail.com: ‘It’s a very complex issue, and there is no easy answer.
‘On one hand, I am a United States Marine, I served in the military. We are here in America, in a state where you hear about an active shooting and ask ‘which one’.
‘This isn’t the 20s and 30s where it’s just cleaning up a few people, its people with 100-round magazines shooting up malls.
‘As a marine, I know that you have to be trained in every which way. Americans are facing a threat like nowhere else in the world, so our police have to be trained.
‘There is the argument that black and other people feel that there needs to be race sensitivity training and all of that, and there does.
‘But when you say okay we will build that facility they say ‘no we don’t like it ‘because it is in our back yard.’
‘There are no easy answers, I have the highest respect for what police officers do, and I couldn’t do it.
‘They see the words of the worst and they deserve to be well equipped and trained as best they can be going into those situations.
Dozens of activists have been arrested in connection to the rampage, and for domestic terrorism on the proposed site
An abandoned protest campsite is seen inside Weelaunee People’s Park with a sign sprayed onto a table ‘Kill Cops’
Seven others were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism and criminal trespass, with additional charges pending. L-R (Top) Sarah Wasilewski, 35, Matthew Ernest Macar, 30, and Teresa Shen, 31 (Bottom) Spencer Bernard Liberto, 29, Christopher Reynolds, 31, Geoffrey Parsons, 20, and Timothy Murphy, 25
‘On the other hand humans are not good at protecting the planet. We are terrible so I understand the point of view of the protesters.
‘I wasn’t there to see the fatal shooting and I don’t know what happened but I don’t think the young man who was killed is the kind of person to shoot the police. Maybe he had a bad day but I’m looking at a gentle spirit calming soul.
‘I am not familiar with the laws, the Stop Cop City movement say they are within their rights to take over on the natural land, and I haven’t heard that DeKalb County are making a legal matter.
‘There is definitely a divide locally, between everyone. The roads in and out of our community aren’t built for high traffic, so building and adding things – you have to take those concerns into consideration.
‘There are other citizens who are concerned about the environment, not concerned enough to pitch a tent but they definitely have concerns.
‘And then there is the economic reality of things, will it bring more jobs and that kind of thing.
The land stretches 85 acres into DeKalb County woods and is known as the Old Atlanta Prison Farm where prisoners would work in poor conditions in the 20th century
Those in charge of the new site plan on moving the prospective firing range to the southern portion of the site, closest to the industrial park and away from residential areas
It comes after cops released the body cam footage from the Atlanta Police officers in attendance, because Georgia State Patrol Troopers do not wear body cams
‘People also don’t tend to break into homes close to a police facility, you are not going to have as much crime next to a police training facility.
‘People are trying to figure out the magical sweet spot between saving the earth and stopping the maniacs with the automatic rifles.’
Georgia State Police officers carried out a clearing operation on Monday and were pictured moving through the forest, but made no arrests.
Images of the scene showed heavily armed law enforcement officers as well as construction equipment and crews on the site.
It comes after cops released the body cam footage from the Atlanta Police officers in attendance, because Georgia State Patrol Troopers do not wear body cams.
Officers surrounded a tent where Paez Teran was holed up, before he was rushed to hospital and pronounced dead.
The footage does not show the actual incident itself, but four gunshots can be heard, before a brief gap and then dozens more being fired.
An officer was wounded in the exchange and had to undergo surgery after being shot in the stomach. Activists claim that he was injured in the crossfire of state troopers rather than by Paez Teran.
The former Mayor Bottoms said that the project was a ‘sensible reform’ and necessary to boost morale when the decision was announced in 2021
A recent rally calling for a ‘night of rage’ against police after the death of Paez Teran, saw police cars set on fire
The protesters, who call themselves forest defenders, are claiming that the police have ‘murdered’ one of their own and are demanding ‘action’
Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency in January following the fatal shooting at the site, in which a trooper was wounded.
He activated 1,000 National Guard troops in response to the clash, which also came shortly before protest regarding the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.
A recent rally calling for a ‘night of rage’ against police after the death of Paez Teran, saw police cars set on fire and protesters, dressed all in black, also throw rocks at a building that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Dozens of activists have been arrested in connection to the rampage and for domestic terrorism on the proposed site.
Ivan Ferguson, 23, of Nevada, and Graham Evatt, 20, of Decatur, Georgia, were among those charged in the massive riots over the death of Paez Teran.
They have been charged with a slew of felony and misdemeanor charges — including domestic terrorism, first-degree arson and riot — but were granted a $355,000 bond.
In May, eight militants were arrested after police patrolling the land were assaulted and pelted with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Five people were arrested on December 13 for allegedly plotting terror attacks at the soon-to-be police academy.
Serena Hertel, 25, of California, Leonard Voiselle, 20, of Macon, Georgia, Nicholas Dean Olson, 25, of Bennington, Nebraska, Francis M. Carroll, 22, of Kennebunkport, Maine and Arieon Robinson, 21, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, were arrested.
An officer was wounded in the exchange and had to undergo surgery after being shot in the stomach. Activists claim that he was injured in the crossfire of state troopers rather than by Paez Teran
Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency in January following the fatal shooting at the site, in which a trooper was wounded
A law enforcement vehicle is seen lit on fire during demonstrations on January 21 with more violence promised
The others arrested for the violent protests at the site of a proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center were deemed to be too much of a flight risk to be granted bond, and will now remain in Fulton County jail until their next court appearances, which have not yet been scheduled.
They include Geier, Madeleine Feola, 22, from Spokane, Washington; and Emily Murphy 37, from Grosse Ile, Michigan.
Francis Carroll, 22, was part of the group that was arrested during the protest in January – after already being charged with plotting a terror attack in December.
DailyMail.com previously revealed that Carroll is the son of surgeon Dr Mike Carroll and grew up in a $2million five-bedroom and four-bathroom mansion in Kennebunkport – as well as enjoying time on his parents’ yacht.
Another group were arrested on the same day as the fatal shooting, charged with domestic terrorism and aggravated assault of an officer.
Teresa Yue Shen, 31, from Brooklyn Sarah Wasilewski, 35, Spencer Liberto, 29, Matt Macar, 30, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Geoffrey Parson, 20, of Baltimore, Timothy Murphy, 25, of Maine, and Christopher Reynolds, 31, of Ohio, were all arrested during the raid.
Shen is the daughter of a New Jersey-based Pharma China and a global diversity expert, while Wasilewski ‘ is a ‘brand ambassador’ who worked for fitness guru Les Mills.
Arieon Robinson (left) was charged with criminal trespass, obstruction, and domestic terrorism, while Leonard Vioselle (right) was charged with criminal trespass, domestic terrorism, and possession of tools of the crime
Graffiti is seen at the edge of Weelaunee People’s Park, the planned site of a controversial ‘Cop City’ project, days after Paez Teran died during a police raid, near Atlanta, Georgia
Nicholas Olsen (left) was charged with domestic terrorism, aggravated assault, interference with government property and obstruction. Serena Hertel (right) 25, has been charged with criminal trespass, domestic terrorism, aggravated assault, obstruction, and inciting a riot
Wasilewski appears to have traveled from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her boyfriend and fellow extremist Spencer Liberto, 29.
Left-wing groups used Twitter to fundraise bail for suspects after another six were arrested in August – charged with various crimes from burglary to criminal damage.
Members of the group tried to burn a man to death after he drove into the area, and he was forced to run for his life after they torched it with him still in it.
After their members were arrested the Defend the Atlanta Forest group held a protest outside of Dekalb County Jail and let off explosive fireworks.
The Atlanta Jail Support, a project of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, also issued calls to fundraise bail money for the terror suspects using Twitter.
Convictions of domestic terrorism carry with it sentences of anywhere between five and 35 years in prison.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk