HomeTop StoriesArrests in Atlanta 'Cop City' protests raise concerns over domestic terrorism charges

Arrests in Atlanta ‘Cop City’ protests raise concerns over domestic terrorism charges

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The choice by prosecutors to pursue home terrorism fees in opposition to opponents of a police training center outdoors Atlanta is drawing criticism, with some authorized consultants saying it’s a doubtlessly harmful overreach that could possibly be seen as politically motivated. 

Greater than a dozen folks have been charged with home terrorism in reference to the protests, together with seven people after a Jan. 18 confrontation with police who had been attempting to clear the proposed web site of the middle, dubbed “Cop Metropolis” by critics.

One man was fatally shot by police within the confrontation after he opened hearth and wounded a state trooper, authorities mentioned. In protests that adopted the killing and the police sweeps, six folks had been arrested and charged with home terrorism.

In December, the same charges were filed against five people after legislation enforcement moved in to clear barricades and confront protesters.

Critics of home terrorism legal guidelines, together with some civil rights teams, oppose them “due to the danger of politicization, as a result of they can be utilized in opposition to politically disfavored teams by the federal government,” Patrick Keenan, a professor of legislation on the College of Illinois, mentioned.

A 2017 Georgia legislation defines home terrorism as a felony meant to kill or hurt folks; “disable or destroy vital infrastructure, a state or authorities facility, or a public transportation system”; “intimidate the civil inhabitants or any of its political subdivisions”; and alter or coerce state coverage or have an effect on the conduct of presidency “by use of damaging units, assassination, or kidnapping.” Conviction carries a most sentence of 35 years in jail.

The allegations in opposition to the protesters embrace trespassing, resisting arrest, throwing rocks and glass bottles and damaging property, together with setting hearth to a police automotive. Authorities have additionally mentioned they discovered “explosive units, gasoline, and highway flares” in an space within the forest the place protesters had makeshift treehouses.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has referred to as the protesters “militant activists” and mentioned “we are going to convey the total drive of state and native legislation enforcement down on these attempting to convey a couple of radical agenda by means of violent means.”

A protester holds up a sign that says "Defend the Forest" during a candlelight vigil for an eco-activist who was shot and killed in an incident near the site of a proposed Atlanta law enforcement training center on Jan. 18, 2023, in Atlanta.
A candlelight vigil for an eco-activist who was shot and killed on Jan. 18 close to the positioning of a proposed Atlanta legislation enforcement coaching heart.Collin Mayfield / Sipa USA through AP

Though “domestic terrorism” is defined in the Patriot Act of 2001there is no specific federal crime overlaying acts of terrorism contained in the U.S. that aren’t linked to al Qaeda, the Islamic State, different formally designated worldwide terrorism teams or their sympathizers — though the U.S. has said in recent times that white supremacist and militia teams are a high home terrorism menace.

Final yr’s mass taking pictures at a grocery retailer in Buffalo, New York, match that class, mentioned Javed Ali, an affiliate professor on the College of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford Faculty of Public Coverage.

The 19-year-old white supremacist who shot and killed 10 Black folks final Might was the first person in New York state convicted of domestic terrorism motivated by hate; he also pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The terrorism cost carries an automated sentence of life in jail.

However in plenty of states, together with Georgia, home terrorism legal guidelines embrace a variety of offenses outdoors these motivated by hate.

As a result of the Georgia statute “focuses on conduct that’s meant to intimidate the federal government or to have an effect on the federal government in any method,” Keenan, the legislation professor, mentioned, it’s “particularly susceptible to politicized use.” 

Keenan mentioned he believes attaching the home terrorism label to protesters may have “some actually harmful results.”

“I don’t assume it’s principally protesters who’re the most important home terrorism threats. Home terrorism threats are coming from different locations, and so to make use of this statute actually publicly and prominently to attempt to squash this protest appears to me, type of the politicized use of the legislation that lots of people had been nervous about,” he mentioned.

Keenan mentioned that whereas he doesn’t condone violence or assaults on legislation enforcement, he believes there are different methods to deal with these issues below Georgia legislation that don’t embrace a home terrorism cost.

“As somebody who dealt with capital homicide circumstances in Georgia, I can let you know Georgia legislation has loads of methods to cope with violence in opposition to legislation enforcement or in opposition to anybody,” he mentioned. “So this home terrorism statute just isn’t obligatory and it could possibly result in this politicized use that I feel doesn’t do anyone any good.”

Joshua Schiffer, an lawyer who represents one of many protesters, mentioned he believes that because the investigation strikes ahead, “the fees gained’t be justified,” calling them “significantly regarding” given Georgia’s wealthy historical past of civil rights and civil disobedience.

“The use by the state of such an aggressive statute signifies the state’s place relating to protesters and the way the state intends to cope with protesters,” he mentioned. “This state motion is supposed to influence and chill this protest challenge nationally.”

Ali, a former senior U.S. authorities counterterrorism official, mentioned such circumstances spotlight what could possibly be a brand new growth on the state and native degree the place authorities will start to convey extra home terrorism fees.  

He mentioned that prosecutors sometimes convey such fees after they consider there may be sufficient proof to assist them, “as a result of why would you convey a cost ahead on one thing that’s pretty uncommon and controversial in the event you’re going to lose the case in courtroom?”

Within the months main as much as the newest arrests, critics have raised environmental considerations about constructing a $90 million legislation enforcement coaching heart on 85 acres simply outdoors Atlanta. Opponents say it might devastate forest, and so they additionally object to creating such an enormous funding in policing after the nationwide 2020 protests in opposition to police violence and systemic racism following the homicide of George Floyd.

Officers have defended the middle, saying that the forested land was the one viable location and legislation enforcement wants fashionable coaching amenities.

On Thursday, Kemp declared a state of emergency in Georgia, the outcome, he mentioned, of “illegal assemblage, violence, overt threats of violence, disruption of peace and tranquility of this state and hazard present to individuals and property.” The order provides Kemp the flexibility to name within the Georgia Nationwide Guard.

Marlon Kautz, an activist with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which gives assets to folks arrested throughout protests, mentioned the group was “extraordinarily alarmed at the usage of this home terrorism statute.” 

“It’s clear that it’s being utilized in a very broad technique to maliciously prosecute folks,” he mentioned.

The Atlanta Solidarity Fund mentioned that the state of Georgia was attempting to “set an alarming precedent” with the fees. 

“If they’re profitable, protesters throughout the nation could possibly be going through comparable speech-chilling ‘home terrorism’ fees,’” it mentioned in an announcement this week. “We should strongly reject this excessive degree of repression right here and now, earlier than it turns into the norm for activists in each motion.”

Supply: www.nbcnews.com

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