Protester Killed in Firefight at Site of New Atlanta Police Center

ATlanTA — Long-running tensions over a planned Atlanta police training center boiled over Wednesday when a protester was killed and a Georgia state trooper was injured in a standoff in a wooded area just outside. outside the city where the center will be built, the government said.

According to law enforcement officials and activists protesting the center, the shooting occurred as police worked to disperse protesters from the woods. Authorities said at least four people were also detained during the raid.

Plans for the training center call for it to be built on 85 acres of woodland, including an area for police cadets to learn vehicle driving skills and even a simulation village, with simulated space for nightclubs, convenience stores and houses. Practice different tactics in a variety of settings.

But the proposal was criticized from the outset by critics of the Atlanta Police Department, who described the $90 million development – mockingly nicknamed “Cop City” – as a dangerous investment in the militarization of law enforcement. Activists have moved into the woods, and their efforts to stop construction have escalated in recent months into violent confrontations with law enforcement officers.

The circumstances surrounding the deadly shooting remained unclear on Wednesday, with investigators revealing some details of what happened and activists challenging the official description of events .

“No one can bring our friends back to us,” the activists said in a statement published by the Atlanta Community Press Collective, a digital store tailored to protesters. “An innocent life was taken and the machines kept working.”

But authorities have sought to portray the actions of those involved in the “Protect Atlanta Forest” effort as causing something more sinister.

“These individuals and groups have attempted to conceal their activities as protests,” Michael Register, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told reporters Wednesday. , told reporters Wednesday, adding that “law enforcement and parts of our community have experienced increasing criminal and terrorist behavior. behavior.”

He said activists have been accused of arson and setting traps in the forest with the potential to cause serious physical harm. Last month, prosecutors took the unusual step of charging six people involved in the Atlanta Forest Defense effort with domestic terrorism. Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia has vowed to maintain a positive approach. “The only response we will make to intimidation and violence is swift and precise justice,” he said in a recent statement.

Register said there was a gunfight Wednesday morning during a “planned cleanup operation” by law enforcement agencies in the forest, located in an unincorporated area of ​​DeKalb County, right outside of Atlanta.

Register said one person shot “unannounced,” hitting the soldier, and officers returned fire. The person killed has yet to be identified by authorities or activists.

Activists with the Atlanta Forest Defense effort challenged the official account and argued that no activists opened fire on the officers. The Atlanta Solidarity Foundation, an organization that provides legal assistance to activists, said it was planning to pursue “a robust legal strategy” to look at the circumstances surrounding the death of a person. protest. “We are committed to finding out what really happened,” said Marlon Kautz, an organizer of the Solidarity Foundation.

Officials said the soldier was hit by a bullet in his lower abdomen and was hospitalized and required surgery, but his condition is stable. “His vital signs are good,” Colonel Chris Wright, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference Wednesday. “He certainly has a long road to recovery.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Kemp said, “As our thoughts remain with him and his family, our determination is also steadfast and strong to put the criminals first. Justice.”

Mayor Andre Dickens of Atlanta said that the city and the Police Department “are fully supporting our state and county partners as they secure the site in DeKalb County and investigate the incident.”

The battle for the training center comes as Atlanta has been rocked in recent years by a spiral of tension over crime and police.

Protests broke out in Atlanta, as well as in many other cities across the country, in 2020 after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers. And tensions exploded soon after when Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, shot dead by Atlanta police while driving past a fast food restaurant.

After the shooting, the Wendy’s restaurant where the incident took place was burned down by protesters. On July 4, 2020, an 8-year-old girl, Secoriea Turner, fatally shot while sitting in an SUV being driven close to the site.

Brooks’ shooting resulted in the resignation of the city’s police chief, Erika Shields, and the officer responsible for the fatal shooting was fired and charged with murder. Ultimately, that officer was reinstated to the police force and criminal charges were dropped. But the situation was blamed on low morale within the Atlanta Police Department and prompting officers to leave the agency.

The training center, approved by city officials in 2021, is seen as an opportunity to better prepare the police force to tackle crime, as well as raise morale and engage officers. participating in the department. The site is a former prison farm, with hundreds of acres largely replanted.

Critics say the project will disturb the vast green space and disrupt the community around it. “People don’t want gunfire and explosions as the background music of their neighborhood,” Bentley Hudgins, a local organizer who lives nearby, said while attending a vigil for protesters on Wednesday. .


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