Georgia officials arrested another set of people Wednesday who have ties to the diverse movement against “Cop City,” adding to its roster of dozens of people facing harsh charges for fighting the giant training facility being built in Atlanta.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Atlanta Police Department arrested three members of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, an organization that helps bail out arrested activists, the GBI said in a statement on Twitter. Marlon Scott Kautz, Savannah D. Patterson and Adele Maclean were charged with money laundering and charity fraud.
The Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which was started seven years ago, prior to Cop City, condemned the charges against the three.
“Our court system and police are using trumped up charges as a scare tactic to silence activists who are exercising their rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The charges are laughable,” the group told HuffPost in a statement. “The outrageous political charges against the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, as well as Cop City protestors, are part of a new playbook that criminalizes the coalition of advocates who are providing financial and physical support to movements.”
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office and the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office are both prosecuting the three arrestees.
DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston told HuffPost that she believes in peaceful protesting, the First Amendment, and the legal operation of bail funds.
“However, we do not condone nor support violence or threats of violence. Crimes, such as money laundering and charity fraud, to support any illegal acts will not be tolerated,” she added, saying that all arrests related to the training facility will be reviewed.
The arrests of the three board members are unprecedented, The Intercept reported, citing Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. The Intercept also called out the “extreme law enforcement persecution” of activists opposed to the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center — or Cop City, as it’s been nicknamed by critics — and pointed to a SWAT team raiding a house to take the board members into custody.
“When three community organizers who help to run a bail fund are arrested with an entire SWAT team on clearly bogus financial charges, it signals that not only is it illegal to protest, it’s also illegal to try and support people who have been criminalized for protesting,” Hannah Riley, a writer and organizer, told HuffPost.
“If bail funds aren’t safe, what’s next?” she added.
The site is expected to take up at least 85 acres in a historically and environmentally significant forest owned by the city of Atlanta.
The movement to keep the facility from being finished has been persistent and has a national reach. People who disapprove of the facility span age groups and identities and are attracted to the movement through different causes — such as environmentalism or abolition.
As the movement has persisted with numerous protests and events, dozens of people have been arrested by Georgia law enforcement. One protester, Manuel Esteban “Tortuguita” Paez Terán, died after being shot by Georgia troopers nearly 60 times. (Tortuguita’s death marks the first time an environmental activist has been killed by police.)
More than 40 people are facing domestic terrorism charges. And three others who face felonies ― accused of placing flyers on mailboxes naming an officer who shot Paez Terán ― had been placed in solitary confinement.
“Most protest crimes are misdemeanors or ordinance violations, like a traffic ticket,” attorney Lyra Foster previously told HuffPost. “We’ve seen many of those cases since the George Floyd protests” over the May 2020 police killing in Minneapolis. “People need to understand the actions of protesters haven’t changed; the crimes they’re charged with have. This isn’t an escalation in protest, it’s a crackdown on those same First Amendment protected protests as before.”
Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in Georgia, both Democrats, have encouraged activists to not resort to violent protests and to lean on reaching out to city officials instead, according to Axios. But nonviolent opponents of the site have still been arrested and charged, and city officials have reportedly largely ignored hours of public comment.
“As we have said before, we will not rest until we have held accountable every person who has funded, organized, or participated in this violence and intimidation,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted Wednesday.
Micah Herskind, also an organizer against the training site, previously told HuffPost that “the literal murder of a forest defender and these incredibly severe political prosecutions” are galvanizing.
“I do think that it makes people more determined to fight than ever and to stop Cop City in Tortuguita’s name and to free all of the political prisoners,” Herskind added.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
This post has been updated to include statements from the Atlanta Solidarity Fund and the DeKalb County District Attorney.