61 People Indicted on Racketeering Charges Related to “Cop City” Protests
The construction of so-called “Cop City”—a $90 million, 85-acre police and firefighter training facility under development near Atlanta, Georgia—has been a source of tension in the city for two years. The complex, formally known as the Atlanta Public Safety Center, is intended to give first responders upgraded facilities to train for more difficult scenarios in mock scenes. But critics say that the center could lead to a more militarized police force, and that its location would raze a stretch of urban forest, exacerbating environmental damage in a poor area.
The opposition escalated earlier this year. Activists planted themselves in the wooded area to undermine construction efforts, and they were confronted by law enforcement, leading to multiple violent clashes, the fatal shooting of an activist, and the wounding of a state trooper, The New York Times reported. After a later clash in March 2023, authorities charged 23 people with domestic terrorism for allegedly attempting to destroy construction equipment and clashing with police.
In the latest legal action in the Cop City drama, 61 activists were indicted by a Georgia grand jury in a sprawling racketeering case. The indictment was handed up last week and released yesterday.
Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr pursued the activists under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), seeking to prove the defendants engaged in an organized campaign of violence, intimidation, and property damage to stall the construction of the facility. Prosecutors accused defendants of arson, domestic terrorism, and money laundering, and they outlined instances in which activists allegedly threw Molotov cocktails and fireworks at first responders.
RICO charges carry a heavy potential sentence that can be added on top of penalties for the underlying acts, according to the Associated Press. Some defendants in the case are already facing domestic terrorism charges, money laundering, and felony intimidation after authorities said they distributed flyers calling a state trooper a “murderer” for his involvement in the fatal shooting of a protester in January. The RICO law enabled prosecutors to link seemingly disparate accusations against a wide array of people by their association to an alleged criminal conspiracy.
In the indictment, prosecutors traced the roots of the activist campaign back to May 2020—almost a year before city officials announced they would lease the land to build a training center. The RICO charges allege that “anti-government anarchists in Atlanta” leveraged racial and anti-police tensions following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as an opportunity to rally against law enforcement.
According to the Times, “The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other critics said the indictment reflected the relentlessly aggressive approach officials had taken to cracking down on protests and pushing forward with building the facility.” Activists painted the arrests as retaliation for lawful protests.