What’s going on with ‘Stop Cop City’ and escalating violence

The most recent accusations leveled at the ‘Stop Cop City’ movement have been the desecration of popular Democrat ‘drink-and-think’ establishment and cultural icon, Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta.

This may leave some questioning — like Gov. Brian Kemp often did — how many of these supposedly peaceful protestors could possibly be from around this area, when their only support / sympathies so far seem to have been from Democrats and Progressives who have gathered there for decades. Manuel’s is seen as a safe, if not sacred space, in those circles.

Others have claimed that the offensive graffiti was applied prior to a scheduled appearance by Mayor Andre Dickens, who is a Democrat and supports the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.

Whatever message he or anyone else was supposed to take from that, the movement — peaceful and otherwise — likely lost a lot of sympathy from Democrats — and possibly garnered more than a few chuckles from Republicans.

However, the charges some of these activists are facing are no laughing matter.

61 activists were indicted on RICO charges which may appear to be almost a tit for tat battle to appropriate Georgia’s RICO law, between Democrats and Republicans — in reference to Trump’s (in)famous RICO charges and famous Atlanta arrest.

It would have been hard to miss that mugshot.

While some insiders in the Atlanta criminal justice system questioned the initial charges of domestic terrorism in the first notable wave of arrests, the RICO charges – and the amount of people facing them – escalated matters to a new level.

The first RICO case defendant to face court — today, Jan. 11 — was Ayla King from Massachusetts.

Setting the tone for what’s to come, the outcome was anticlimactic for now. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams dismissed the jury before opening statements after lawyers for King filed an appeal against a former denial to have the case dismissed.

Judge Esmond Adams estimated it would take her somewhere around two weeks to give the appeal proper consideration.

It’s difficult for many to understand how the City of Atlanta, an ostensible home to the Civil Rights Movement, could be in such a predicament of this nature in terms of criminalizing public protest to the highest degree. State Attorney General , Chris Carr — also known for his fight against human trafficking — was involved in establishing the RICO charges against the protesters.

One protester, however, is dead.

A young activist from Central America, a region often rocked by deadly state violence against protestors, faced off with police reportedly near his tent in the forest where the occupiers were trying to block construction of the development. The forest area is the City’s largest greenspace and has roots to Indigenous settlements. At least that’s the narrative that’s going around. Occupation of such areas is a routine tactic in Latin America when people such as Indigenous groups try to defend their villages and communities from outside development projects which would harm their water supplies and environment — which they often rely on much more directly for food and sustenance. 

Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran was allegedly shot 57 times by police who also claim that he had a gun and fired at them first. Unfortunately, they were not wearing body camera footage to back this up. As such, this claim has had grounds to be widely disputed.

Not to be crass but it seems the ‘occupy and destroy’ approach literally backfired in what is being pushed by supporters of the movement and others as the first killing of an environmental activist on U.S. soil by government entities. This is probably debatable in the wake of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the infamous standoff at Wounded Knee.

Nevertheless.. it is an undeniable tragedy for everyone involved.

A recent report from The Guardian uncovered federal documents which they claim implied federal agents had been monitoring social media postings about the movement and sharing this information with state and local police. To what extent this happened, and what police did or how they used that information – and to what extent – is unclear. This may be why police reacted the way they did in the killing, in terms of as if they were approaching what is now called, ‘an environmental terrorist’. Again, at least that’s the narrative.

What you don’t hear about in the news are the actual peaceful protesters and critics which count among them musicians, clergy, and even Martin Luther King Jr.’s own daughter, Dr. Bernice King — who penned a critical letter of the project, asking for the project to at least be moved to another location.

Sen. and Rev. Raphael Warnock has also pushed back a little, specifically calling for more transparency in matters of a petition that has crucial implications on the outcome of this movement, but is thus far being obstructed some say, or at the very least, ignored by city officials.

And some have gone so far to claim that Atlanta’s Black community as a whole is much less supportive of the project than they might find themselves empowered to fully express.

And, then there’s what happened right here in Gwinnett County — which Hilary Clinton took in the 2016 election. This was the first time a Democrat had won the county since President Jimmy Carter. 

According to the AJC, a group of activists associated with the ‘Stop Cop City’ movement took credit for an act of sabotage by arson targeting a Gwinnett County business owner.

Per the AJC’s aforementioned article:

“Twelve cement trucks were destroyed in the last 48 hours. They burned them to a crisp,” Simon H. Bloom, an attorney for the Atlanta Police Foundation, said Wednesday during legal arguments over an attempt by the South River Watershed Alliance to halt construction at the training center site, claiming harmful sediment is entering nearby Intrenchment Creek”.

A $10,000 reward has been offered for information which could lead to an arrest for this incident.

It may be that matters have festered and escalated too far on all sides; and many likely hope the violence and destruction will soon end — along with what some see as political manipulation of the criminal justice system. 

The larger community may be thinking it’s time for all sides to take it down a notch and find some common ground, no pun intended.

While no one wants to see Atlanta’s largest greenspace destroyed, and there are valid concerns about the militarization of police in some cases, these sorts of protest activities are contributing to an atmosphere where peaceful protests may more routinely be infiltrated by violence through the establishment of social norms. 

These activities are clearly also creating a larger context of suspicion (and most likely surveillance) which will surround any future protests or protestors (on either ‘side of the aisle’) which might emerge genuinely from concepts of peaceful protest or peaceful acts of civil disobedience which Atlanta has long been home to.

In other words, these escalations by factions of the ‘Stop Cop City’ movement are putting protestors (now and in the future, on all sides of the political spectrum), police, and the general public in greater danger, all around.

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