FIVE FOREST DEFENDERS ARRESTED CHARGED WITH DOMESTIC TERRORISM AND DENIED BAIL

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13 – THE  POLICE RAID

Early Tuesday morning, dozens of Atlanta Police and DeKalb County Police officers entered Weelaunee Forest, a/k/a South River Forest, to forcibly remove Forest Defenders living in tree houses. Five forest defenders passively sitting in trees were sprayed with tear gas and pepper balls and removed at gunpoint, and residents walking the trails were also removed at gunpoint. Next, the police destroyed an encampment on public park land, people’s tents and sleeping bags were slashed with knives, and a makeshift kitchen was torn down using a Bobcat excavator.

Police blocked roads around the forest, and people driving in the area were followed by unmarked cars, and their vehicles and tags were filmed. Their command center for the incursion for police, fire, and EMS units was at Gresham Park, close to Intrenchment Creek Park (ICP). DeKalb County police entered ICP at Westside Drive, and Atlanta police entered Old Prison Farm at Key Road.

The five people arrested were charged with domestic terrorism, aggravated assault, criminal trespass, and other charges.  Three are from out of state, and the other two are unknown.

The next day a sixth person was arrested for filming the police while driving.  

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14 –  THE PRESS CONFERENCE 

“I have never seen police mobilize like this to shut down our protests in this press conference like they have today. I had to walk 30 minutes to find the press conference because the police blocked off where we were initially going to have the press conference,’ Matthew Johnson, Interim Executive Director at the Beloved Community, said at the press conference in Intrenchment Creek Park a/k/a Weelaunee People’s Park.  

“The Atlanta Police Department used plastic bullets and pepper spray against unarmed, non-violent political protests. The police have been engaging in a deliberate campaign to demonize this protest movement. When intimidation and baseless arrests failed to discourage this movement, now the police are using open brutality to try to suppress the movement,” Marlon Kautz with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund said.

“What the protesters are doing has not changed. They continue to speak out to break the law in civil disobedience ways, but the police response has continued to escalate. Are we going to end up in a situation where the police are murdering protesters to advance their political agenda in building Cop City?”

“The stakes are not just about Cop City or just about this protest movement, but about the future of free speech and political protest in Atlanta, the home of the civil rights movement,” Kautz warned.

“The officer who killed Rayshard Brooks has his job back. The police are doubling down on violent tactics, as we saw chemical weapons used against nonviolent protesters sitting in trees yesterday. The police want to build a militarized training facility in a black community on land they are already using for bomb testing and shooting. This is what we are dealing with in this city,” Johnson said.

The police say they need more funding …but they have all kinds of militarized weapons and equipment. This is a sham if the city can’t find the funds for people to be housed and have basic necessities. These police work as private security for private interests,” Johnson said.

Jasmine Burnett, the Organizing Director of Community Movement Builders, said, “We oppose Cop City and recognize that Cop City is being built to learn urban warfare tactics to harass our communities to surveil us. This is about who has power and resources and who doesn’t. It is about shoving through legislation that people in Atlanta overwhelmingly do not support. People are asking for affordable housing and other needs, not a $90 million project to construct the country’s largest urban warfare training facility in the country.”

Many activists are concerned that militarized police can be directed toward the public, as ex-president Trump did in Lafayette Park. He ordered the police to pepper spray peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park so he could walk to Episcopal Church for a photo op to hold a Bible upside down and backward.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15 – WHAT THE POLICE SAID

At a Dec. 15 meeting of a training center advisory committee, APD Assistant Chief Carven Tyus said protesters by no-locals are inherently terrorism and reported an arrest of a man for filming the police under the terms of the hand-free driving law, as reported in the SaportaReport.

These comments by Tyus are Constitutional red flags that could endanger First Amendment rights and open the City to lawsuits, Gary Weber and Zach Greenamye, two civil rights attorneys, said.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17th  HUNDREDS RALLY FOR THE FOREST DEFENDERS

About two hundred forest defenders and supporters gathered in Brownwood Park in East Atlanta to tell the police, the politicians, and the world that you can’t stop this movement that intersects with racism, environmental racism, police violence, environmental issues, and climate change.  

“The events of this week are not going to silence our voices, and it is going to amplify our voices,” Ricky from the Highlander School said. 

‘We’re here to show them that we have the power of the people and that the power of the masses will prevail.’ Kamau Franklin with Community Movement Builders said.

The police call the young people who are defending the forest terrorist. “But it is the police who are the ones with the guns, the nightsticks, the handcuffs, the jails, the prisons, and the court system,” Kamau said. 

It is not the will of 70 percent of people who called the Atlanta City Council to oppose the building of Cop City in the South River Forest. It was mainly people in Buckhead who wanted more police protection.  “It is the police, the capitalist class, and the electoral class that is building this urban warfare facility,” Kamau said. 

AN ONGOING LAWSUIT

There is an active lawsuit by The South River Watershed Alliance and South River Forest Coalition to stop the swap between DeKalb County and Blackhall Studios of beautiful forested land in Intrenchment Creek Park for a pile of red dirt. The land exchange represents an unlawful conversion of public park land to private uses and a waste of taxpayer money.

Written and photo by Gloria Tatum

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