Protesters in Atlanta march in Day of Action against Police Terror and to Stop Cop City. Photo: Kamau Franklin / Twitter
Officers from the Atlanta Police Department (APD) and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) raided an activist house in the southern US city of Atlanta on the morning of May 31. During the raid, the officers arrested three members of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a non-profit organization that provides “support for people who are arrested at protests, or prosecuted for movement involvement” by way of jail and legal support and accompaniment, bail funds, and helping provide access to representation.
The three arrested organizers, Marlon Kautz, Adele Maclean and Savannah Patterson, were booked in the DeKalb County Jail where they were each charged with money laundering and charity fraud.
The activists’ arrest warrant alleges they were “misleading contributors by using funds collected through a State of Georgia registered 501c(3) Network for Strong Communities (NFSC) to fund the actions in part of Defend the Atlanta Forest (DTAF), a group classified by the United States Department of Homeland Security as Domestic Violent Extremists.”
The accusation leveled at the solidarity fund activists is related to the ongoing struggle in Atlanta against the construction of “Cop City” a USD 90 million “urban warfare” police training facility to be built on over 100 acres of public land. Not only would dozens of acres of Atlanta’s South River Forest be cut down to build it, but the facility seeks to serve as a space for police forces across the nation to practice repression tactics and train using firearms, tear gas, helicopters, and explosive devices.
“The stakes could not be higher”
The arrests of the bail fund activists have been met with widespread outrage from progressive movements and activists across the US, with many raising the alarm over what the broader implications are for movements as a whole.
The National Director of the ANSWER Coalition Brian Becker told Peoples Dispatch that, “These charges are a clear and obvious violation of core constitutional rights to free speech. If police forces in Georgia succeed in their atrocious assault against those engaged in dissent it will become a model for ramped up repression by police forces all over the country. The stakes could not be higher.”
Mariah Parker, an Atlanta-based labor organizer, hip-hop artist, and forest defender in the movement to stop “Cop City” told Peoples Dispatch that the arrest of the organizers could have, “really grim implications for what the Atlanta Police Department is trying out and hoping to perfect here in Atlanta to then export across the country with regards to criminalizing the crowdsourcing of funding to help protect people’s right to protest.”
Parker added that the crackdown on solidarity fundraising could extend to other activities that are being met with political repression such as abortion access funds and support to migrants seeking asylum.
Bezaleel Jupiter, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation in Atlanta, in conversation with Peoples Dispatch stated that, “They are criminalizing the movement by criminalizing a non-violent form of organizing…if you were arrested just for organizing a charity fund, what’s next?”
Resistance to “Cop City”
Since the project was publicly announced in June 2021, it has been met with a massive public backlash. A broad coalition of environmentalists, anti-police brutality activists, community organizers, and other progressive and left groups have been organizing diverse campaigns and actions to voice their opposition to the project and stop it from advancing.
While the project was being discussed in City Council in 2021, Atlanta residents called in hours of public comment to voice their concerns over the project and to demand that their representatives oppose it. Ahead of the vote by the Atlanta City Council on September 6, 2021, residents called in over 17 hours worth of public comment, with 70% of the 1,166 comments voicing opposition. Despite this, the council voted 10-4 in favor of building the facility. They are set to vote on whether or not to fund the project on Monday, June 5.
Another site of struggle was the forest itself where “Cop City” is set to be built. Soon after the project was announced, activists with the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement began to occupy parts of the forest in a permanent protest camp. The camp has been heavily targeted by state forces. On March 5, during a music festival organized there, police carried out a raid and detained 35 people, of whom they arrested 23 who they charged with domestic terrorism. Police claimed they had vandalized the “Cop City” construction site and carried out violence against the police.
In December 2022, five activists were also arrested at the camp and charged with domestic terrorism, aggravated assault, and other charges after throwing rocks and bottles at the construction site. Similarly following a protest in downtown Atlanta on January 21, 2023, which saw acts of property destruction, six protesters were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, first-degree arson, criminal damage, and interference with government property.
Days prior, on January 18, during a heavily militarized raid of the protest camp, police shot and killed 26-year-old Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán. Police claimed that the young activist had shot and hit a state trooper, but police body camera footage that was released indicated the cop may have been shot by a fellow officer. The young activist’s body had at least 57 gunshot wounds.
Forest defenders were also cited in a bulletin from the National Terrorism Advisory System on May 24, 2023 which stated, “Since spring of 2022, alleged DVEs (domestic violent extremists) in Georgia have cited anarchist violent extremism, animal rights/environmental violent extremism, and anti-law enforcement sentiment to justify criminal activity in opposition to a planned public safety training facility in Atlanta.”
The Atlanta Solidarity Fund has played a key role in responding to the high levels of violent and fierce repression against protesters opposing “Cop City”. The organization has scaled up its fundraising efforts in recent months in order to support the arrested protesters with their bail and legal needs, and has helped organize a legal response to the irregular actions carried out by law enforcement officials. Donating to the fund is mentioned on the websites and social media pages of major organizations and activists that are part of the struggle against “Cop City” as a way for people to take action and support the struggle.
The Fund was also active in supporting those who were arrested during the 2020 protests against racist violence, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The protests escalated in intensity in Atlanta following the murder of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks on June 12 and hundreds were detained and arrested throughout the weeks of protest.
In a statement released on the Fund’s website on January 23, 2023 condemning the arrest of activists, it writes, “Repression has increased dramatically over the last few months, as local government moves to push the Cop City development forward despite all public opposition. 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.”
The statement continues, “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…We must strongly reject this extreme level of repression here and now, before it becomes the norm for activists in every movement.”
Parker, who has been an active voice and organizer in the struggle against “Cop City” and the repression faced by activists, emphasized, “It is really important for us here in Atlanta to make sure that the authorities, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, Atlanta Police Department, and the Attorney General know that we will not be intimidated by these tactics and that this is not something that they can continue to use against people in other places to try to crush their movements.”