61 RICO defendants arraigned Monday over public safety center protests

Atlanta Public Safety Training Center remains center of controversy, violence
A crowd is gathered outside the Fulton County Courthouse in support of 61 people who are facing a judge in a massive racketeering case.
Published: Nov. 5, 2023 at 9:00 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 6, 2023 at 3:07 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - More than 60 people were arraigned Monday on organized crime charges related to their alleged efforts to stop the construction of the controversial Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.

Also on Monday, a rally in support of those defendants was held at the Fulton County courthouse, the site of some of the nation’s most controversial political and legal issues this year.

Barricades were set outside the courthouse before the hearings.

“They’re trying to repress free speech, and they’re ultimately trying to crush any dissent against them,” said T. Corey, one of the demonstrators.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr brought the charges back in September following a multi-agency investigation into the violence that has occurred at the site and other locations.

“Looking the other way when violence occurs is not an option in Georgia,” Carr said at the time. “If you come to our state and shoot a police officer, throw Molotov cocktails at law enforcement, set fire to police vehicles, damage construction equipment, vandalize private homes and businesses and terrorize their occupants, you can and will be held accountable.”

All 61 defendants have been charged with violating of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Several of the defendants are also facing separate charges of domestic terrorism, attempted arson and money laundering.

As alleged in the indictment, the defendants are members of Defend the Atlanta Forest, and are alleged to have conspired together to prevent the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center by conducting, coordinating, and organizing acts of violence, intimidation, and property destruction in Fulton County, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and other states.

Of the 61 defendants who have been indicted, only 13 are from Georgia.

In June, the Atlanta City Council approved roughly $67 million in public funding for the proposed project.

As approved by the City Council in September 2021, the land is being leased to the private Atlanta Police Foundation for $10 a year. The proposed referendum would seek to cancel that agreement.

Opponents said more than 35,000 signatures have been collected towards the effort to get the issue of the public safety training center known as “Cop City” on an upcoming ballot.

Supporters of the “Atlanta 61″ said the charges against them are baseless. Organizers of Monday morning’s rally said the event is part of an upcoming #StopCopCity Week of Action in Atlanta.

“The RICO charges are clearly baseless, just as the domestic terrorism charges are. Criminalizing those participating in a movement against police violence truly demonstrates that there is no such thing in America as freedom of speech or freedom to protest” says Kamau Franklin, head of Community Movement Builders.

The indictment lists more than 200 incidents where the defendants reportedly teamed up to stop the facility’s construction. Some include:

  • On July 5, 2020, the group allegedly attacked the Georgia Department of Public Safety’s headquarters by throwing rocks and hurling a Molotov cocktail through the window, resulting in the injury of two employees and the building catching fire.
  • On Dec. 13, 2022, defendants allegedly threw fireworks at firefighters and EMTs, damaged an Atlanta police vehicle and cut the safety rope of an arborist working in one of the trees on the site.
  • On March 5, 2023, a member of the group allegedly punched a police officer and an organized mob attacked other law enforcement who were guarding the site, eventually setting construction vehicles on fire.

In August, activists announced they had collected more than 100,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot for a public vote. The city said the signatures were turned in past the legal deadline, but still accepted the boxes, while adding that the acceptance didn’t guarantee further action.

Fulton County is a hotspot for several high-profile RICO cases, including former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election interference case and rapper Young Thug’s organized crime case.

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