Atlanta ‘Cop City’: Dozens face racketeering charges for protests

Protesters at the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center
Activists have claimed the controversial 'Cop City' will lead to more militarised police forces in Georgia

More than 60 activists are facing racketeering charges for allegedly conspiring to stop construction of a controversial police training centre in Atlanta.

Prosecutors allege that the defendants are "militant anarchists" who illegally occupied areas around the centre.

The site at the heart of the case, dubbed "Cop City" by critics, has repeatedly been the scene of clashes.

Critics say the centre will fuel police brutality and destroy a vital forest.

Most of the defendants indicted are already facing criminal charges, but now are being charged under the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or Rico. Rico charges can lead to stiff penalties that can be added to other sentences.

The facility, officially known as the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, is still under construction.

Officials say the 85-acre (34.4-hectare) campus would provide much-needed training facilities and prepare police officers for demands of the job. Opponents argue it will lead to militarisation of police forces, promote the targeting of minority groups and cause environmental damage.

According to the 109-page indictment, 61 members of a group called "Defend the Atlanta Forest" illegally occupied the site where the $90m (£72m) centre is being built.

The indictment alleges that the members of the group - which it describes as "anti-government" and "anti-police" - committed a slew of crimes as part of their campaign, ranging from criminal trespass and vandalism to throwing Molotov cocktails at officers. More than 225 "overt acts" are cited in court documents.

At a Tuesday news conference, Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr said the defendants "subscribe to a philosophy of anarchy".

"They hold a core belief that society should abolish police, government and private business and as further alleged, they're willing to bring about such changes by any means necessary," Mr Carr said.

The Defend the Atlanta Forest group has yet to comment on the indictment.

Another activist group, the Cop City Vote Coalition, claimed in a statement that prosecutors are hoping to "intimidate protesters" and "send the chilling message that any dissent to Cop City will be punished with the full power and violence of the government".

"We will not be intimidated by power-hungry strongmen," added the statement from the group, which seeks to force a public vote on the training centre.

The project has repeatedly been delayed by public opposition and occasionally violent protests.

In January, 26-year-old activist Manuel Paez Terán was shot dead by police during a raid to clear the site. While police claimed that Terán fired first and injured a state trooper, an independent autopsy suggested that their hands were raised at the time they died.

In March, terror charges were filed against 23 protesters accused of "a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers" at the site.