Cop city Atlanta

ACLU Says Cop City Protesters Have Been Hit With Excessive RICO And Domestic Terrorism Charges

The American Civil Liberties Union is blasting Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr for hitting Cop City protesters with racketeering and state domestic terrorism charges.

Cop City, a $90 million Atlanta-area police training center being built by the state of Georgia, has been protested by residents since former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced its construction in 2021.

Atlanta residents believe the training center will lead to greater militarization of the police and that its construction will aggravate environmental damage in the majority-Black city. Activists and protesters have been fighting the Cop City effort for two years, and protests have led to violence and property damage.

Earlier this month, Carr obtained indictments against 61 protesters and charged them with the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. Each protestor now faces up to 20 years in prison. Three bail fund organizers also face additional money laundering charges, and five protestors have been charged with state domestic terrorism charges.

The ACLU called the charges excessive, shocking, and unprecedented. The organization says RICO charges are intended to combat organized crime, not to punish protest, civil disobedience, and isolated crimes, adding Carr is trying to prosecute the protest movement as if it were a full-fledged criminal organization, even though the alleged conduct is much less severe.

The indictment’s list of alleged criminal conduct included people trying to occupy the forest where Cop City would be located and characterized as individuals attempting to join a “mob” to overwhelm the police. Even non-criminal acts, including buying food and distributing fliers, are being made out to be the cornerstone of a coordinated criminal scheme in the indictment.

This isn’t the first time Cop City protesters have been hit with excessive charges. In April, police arrested Caroline Hart Tennebaum, Abeeku Osei Vassall, and Julia Dupuis after they left a flier on mailboxes in Cartersville, Georgia, calling officer Jonathan Salcedo, who lived in the neighborhood a “murderer” for his part in the January shooting and killing of activist Manuel Paez Terán.

The three were charged with stalking and were later hit with felony intimidation of law enforcement. Language was added to the intimidation charge in 2012 to a statute on intimidating “any officer in or of any court.”

According to Dupuis’ mother, Caroline Verhagen, they were also placed in solitary confinement for four days.

“It raises serious First Amendment concerns,” the ACLU of Georgia wrote, according to The Guardian. “It is also part of a broader pattern of the state of Georgia weaponizing the criminal code to unconditionally protect law enforcement and to silence speech critical of the government.”