ATLANTA — Nearly three dozen people were detained after flaming bottles and rocks were thrown at officers during a protest at Cop City, the new police training center that has been the site of previous demonstrations and the death of a protester, Atlanta police said Monday.
Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a news conference Monday that several pieces of construction equipment were set on fire Sunday at the site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in Dekalb County.
It was the latest flare-up in the case, which has drawn both anti-police protesters and environmentalists who call themselves defenders of the forest to Georgia.
Surveillance video released by the police shows heavy equipment burning on the construction site of the facility, which opponents call “Police City.” Police said it was among several pieces of construction equipment destroyed.
The protesters, dressed in all black, threw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers at the construction site, police said.
Other police agencies responded to assist city officers and none were injured, Schierbaum said. Officers used non-lethal coercion to disperse the crowd and detain the participants, he said.
“It was a very violent attack, a very violent attack,” Schierbaum said. “It was not about the public safety training center. It was about anarchy … and we’re dealing with it soon.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said the people involved “chose destruction and vandalism over legitimate protest, once again demonstrating the radical intent behind their actions.”
“As I have said before, domestic terrorism will NOT be tolerated in this state,” Kemp said in a statement Monday.
“We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for extremist purposes are held fully accountable,” he said.
The names of those in custody and the criminal charges against them were not available early Monday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. But Schierbaum said many are not from the Atlanta area.
In January, law enforcement officers shot a 26-year-old environmental activist in the forest where the educational center is being built.
RELATED: 6 arrested after Atlanta protest against controversial ‘Police City’, fatal police shooting of activist
Demonstrations engulfed downtown Atlanta on Jan. 21, when a police cruiser was set on fire, rocks were thrown and fireworks were set off at the skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation. Windows were broken in this building and others.
In 2021, the Atlanta City Council approved a $90 million Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, saying the state-of-the-art campus would replace substandard offerings and boost morale for the police force, which is struggling to recruit and retain personnel after violent protests against racial injustice that swept the country after the death of George Floyd in 2020.
In addition to classrooms and administrative buildings, the training center will include a shooting range, driving courses for pursuit practice and a “hot house” for firefighters to work on extinguishing fires. Authorities will also build a “mock village” with a fake house, shop and nightclub to rehearse the raids.
Opponents said the site would be used to practice “urban warfare.” The self-styled “protectors of the forest” say the construction of the 85-hectare training center will involve cutting down so many trees that it will harm the environment.
The protests led to proposals to increase criminal penalties.
As part of a broader crackdown on crime, state lawmakers have proposed making rioting a felony rather than a misdemeanor in Georgia and are considering creating a separate crime for setting fire to a police vehicle.
Many of those accused of violence in connection with the protests at the training site are charged with domestic terrorism, a crime punishable by up to 35 years in prison. The allegations have drawn criticism from some that the state is acting harshly.
However, lawmakers are considering increasing the punishment, classifying domestic terrorism as a serious violent crime. This means that anyone convicted of a crime must serve the entire sentence imposed by a judge, cannot be sentenced to probation as a first offender, and cannot be released on parole unless the offender has served at least 30 years deprivation of liberty.
Meanwhile, the police said on Monday that new protests are planned in the coming days.
“Due to the protests planned for the coming days, the Atlanta Police Department, in cooperation with law enforcement partners, has a multi-layered strategy that includes response and arrest,” police said in a statement.
Martin reported from Woodstock, Georgia.