Construction site is swarmed, burns at Atlanta’s ‘Cop City’

Dive Brief:

  • Police detained 35 people after what officials described as a “coordinated, criminal attack” Sunday evening at the controversial $90 million Atlanta Public Safety Training Center construction site left multiple pieces of equipment ablaze. Birmingham, Alabama-based Brasfield & Gorrie is the prime contractor for the project.
  • According to the Atlanta Police Department, a group of what it described as “violent agitators” who were attending a protest changed into black clothing, entered the construction area and threw rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers.
  • Police video shows at least three pieces of equipment engulfed in flames, including a large earth-moving bulldozer. Other items set on fire in the video appeared to include generators, quad utility vehicles and a construction trailer or shipping container. A spokesperson for Brasfield & Gorrie told Construction Dive the equipment did not belong to it.

Dive Insight:

The action was the latest violence and destruction of property connected to the 85-acre police, fire and public safety training center being built in a forested area on Atlanta’s south side.

Last fall, activists vandalized the Birmingham, Alabama-area home of Miller Gorrie, chairman of Brasfield & Gorrie. In January, police shot and killed an activist in downtown Atlanta after a protest there turned violent.

The video begins with police standing guard at the site while what appear to be 50 to 75 people dressed in paramilitary clothing and masks approach from the woods.

Three police officers inside the fence line quickly retreat on foot, followed by a police vehicle exiting the site. The people coming from the woods then swarm the area, close the gate and squat behind their own riot shields before locking themselves in.  

Some of the attackers then throw what police said were rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police while others topple the quad utility vehicle in the background. Shortly after, smoke and flames appear on the construction equipment. The attackers then mill about the site for several minutes before retreating in what appears to be a coordinated manner.

The police training center campus was approved by Atlanta City Council in September 2021 at the site of the Old Atlanta Prison Farm in neighboring DeKalb County.

The project has become a flashpoint in the debate over policing. Forest Defenders activists have also protested against the potential environmental impacts to the surrounding woodlands, as well as the nearby South River, and have attracted national media attention, including a profile in the New Yorker

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said during a press conference Sunday that the attack went beyond peaceful protest into the realm of what he characterized as anarchy. “This was a very violent attack that occurred this evening,” Schierbaum said. “This wasn’t about a public safety training center. This was about anarchy, and this was about the attempt to destabilize, and we are addressing that quickly.”

Schierbaum said both the George Bureau of Investigation and the FBI had joined in the investigation to determine the appropriate charges against suspects in the attack, and that his department would take the actions necessary to protect the site and keep the city safe.

“This is not a protest,” Scheirbaum said.  “This is criminal activity, and the charges that will be brought forth will show that when you throw commercial grade fireworks, when you throw them on top, cocktails, large rocks, number of items at officers, your only intent is to harm.”

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