People upset by the militarization of police protested a site that is in construction to become a police training center on Sunday. The site is in the woods outside Atlanta, Georgia, and protesters threw rocks and flaming bottles at the property they dubbed “Cop City,” and some threw the items at police officers.

At least 23 people were arrested on domestic terrorism charges on Monday. Thirty-five people were first detained, and police said many of them come from cities across the U.S., per CNN.

“This is not a protest, this criminal activity and the charges that will be brought forth will show that,” Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a news conference, per CNN. “When you throw commercial-grade fireworks, when you throw Molotov cocktails, large rocks, a number of items at officers — your only intent is to harm.”

Dave Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation, center, examines damaged property at the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in DeKalb County, Ga., Monday, March 6, 2023. | John Spink, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via Associated Press

What escalated the protests at ‘Cop City’?

In January, police shot and killed 26-year-old environmental activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, or “Tortuguita.” Officers claim Tortuguita attacked them, but activists have questioned that version of events and demanded police release body camera footage, The Associated Press reported.

Tortuguita was passionate about preserving the environment and was one of many protesters upset by Atlanta’s construction of a $90 million “Public Safety Training Center meant to boost preparedness and morale after George Floyd’s death in 2020” that would clear an area of a forest outside Atlanta, per AP.

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He and other protesters were camped out to protest construction, and the shooting took place when police officers were doing a sweep of the camp, The Washington Post reported.

Tensions between police and protesters have only heightened since the killing.

What is ‘Cop City’?

Blueprints for the training center show it would take up 85 acres and would “include classrooms, an amphitheater, a driving course, a shooting range, pastureland for police horses and what is described by supporters as a ‘mock city for real-world training’ that includes apartments, a nightclub and a convenience store,” The New York Times reported.

The population in the area is mainly made up of Black residents, which, according to The Post, is “one of the groups most at risk of over-policing.”

The Atlanta City Council approved leasing the land to the Atlanta Police Foundation in 2021. The votes came after “17 hours of overwhelmingly negative public comment,” per the Post.

Why are people against construction of the training center?

Atlanta police detractors are focused on questioning how much cities should be providing to support law enforcement training.

“I do share the concern of the citizens of Atlanta,” Arthur Rizer, a former Washington state police officer and scholar of policing, told the Times, “that the apparent focus is going to be a paramilitary-type training, urban assault tactics, which quite frankly have not been effective at reducing crime.”

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Civil rights organization Color of Change questions how the training center could increase police accountability.

“This just takes up a lot of space in a Black community ... and it provides more access, more tools, and more resources to an institution that actually needs more accountability,” Color of Change President Rashad Robinson told AP.

But Democratic Mayor Andre Dickens says there will be more than 200 acres of protected green space around the site and argues that the training will help with police de-escalation.

“The city of Atlanta has the most extensive training requirements in the Southeast,” he said, per CNN. “Our training includes vital areas like de-escalation training techniques, mental health, community-oriented policing, crisis intervention training, as well as civil rights history education.”

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