Washington (EFE).- Atlanta authorities on Monday charged 23 of the more than 30 people arrested during weekend protests at a site on which a police station will be built, a project that has sparked the ire of demonstrators who feel that the work will damage the environment and the well-being of minorities who live in the area.
Among the people charged were French and Canadian citzens, one from each country, along with 21 others who came from outside Georgia, a situation leading authorities to treat the matter as domestic terrorism.
Police arrested at least 35 people on Sunday night in the Georgia state capital after a protest against the construction of a police training center during which they threw stones and incendiary bombs.
“Domestic terrorism will NOT be tolerated in this state,” said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in a statement, adding that “As we continue to respect peaceful protest, we will also continue to ensure safety in our communities.”
“We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice,” he added.
The activists had camped out for some weeks near the site where the Public Safety Training Facility is to be built, and in January one of them, Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, 26, died in a shootout with police, who said he opened fire first and wounded an officer whereupon they returned fire and killed him.
According to the police version of events, on Sunday night dozens of militants left the South River Music Festival and marched on the construction site in DeKalb County.
“When you attack law enforcement officers, when you damage equipment, you are breaking the law,” said Atlanta police chief Darin Schierbaum at a press conference Sunday night. “This wasn’t about a public safety training center, this was about anarchy and this was about the attempt to destabilize.”
Police also said that the “illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm. Officers exercised restraint and used non-lethal enforcement to conduct arrests.”
People opposing the training center, locally known as “Cop City,” said that the facility will affect the minority communities near the site – which is in Weelaunee Forest, also known as South River Forest – and will damage the environment in the area.
The agitators called for a week of “mass mobilization” and designated Thursday as “National Action Day against Police Terrorism,” at the 34-hectare (85-acre) site where the facility is to be built at a cost of $90 million.
Videos disseminated by the media show about 100 people, many of them wearing military-style combat clothing, throwing rocks, bricks and shooting fireworks over the fence surrounding the construction site.
When police reinforcements arrived on the scene, the agitators dispersed and police pursued them into the nearby woods, ultimately arresting at least 35 of them.
A group called Defend the Atlanta Forest said in a statement after the demonstrators burned construction equipment at the site that “It’s important to note that the 35 people that police arrested tonight were not ‘violent agitators,’ but peaceful concert goers who were nowhere near the demonstration.”