More than 60 people have been charged in a sweeping RICO case targeting activists who oppose the construction of a multi-million dollar law enforcement complex in the Atlanta area, a massive escalation of what critics have warned has been a police retaliation campaign to crush protests and criminalize dissent.
It targets 61 people under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a statute modeled over federal anti-racketeering law to break up organized crime that has most recently been invoked against Donald Trump and 18 of his co-defendants for alleged efforts to illegally overturn 2020 presidential election results in the state.
The $90m Atlanta Public Safety Training Center project has been at the center of “Stop Cop City” protests and occupations since it was proposed in 2021 in an area occupying roughly 85 acres in a historically and environmentally significant forest area owned by the city of Atlanta.
Police have arrested dozens of people during protests, including more than 40 people facing “domestic terrorism” charges and other charges for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails and setting fires at the site.
Protests escalated following the fatal shooting of activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Teran while police cleared a protest encampment in January. Police claim that Paez Teran fired at officers, which his family and advocates have rejected. An autopsy released by his family revealed that his hands were raised at the time of the shooting.
Earlier this year, three board members of a nonprofit group that provides bail and legal support were charged with money laundering and charity fraud. They are also charged under the latest RICO indictment.
The indictment accuses protesters of joining a “criminal enterprise” fuelled by anarchist ideas and mutual aid to spread “false” “propaganda” about police violence to bolster support for plans to halt construction of the facility.
Notably, the indictment dates the beginning of that “criminal enterprise” on 25 May, 2020, which predates any Stop Cop City activities – but it is the date of George Floyd’s murder in Minnesota, which galvanised international racial justice protests and uprisings against police violence.
Vote to Stop Cop City – a petitioning campaign to create a ballot referendum that would allow Georgia voters to decide the fate of the facility – said that the charges “seek to intimidate protesters, legal observers and bail funds alike.”
The indictment sends a “chilling message that any dissent to Cop City will be punished with the full power and violence of the government,” the group said in a statement.