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Authorities in Georgia have charged 23 people with domestic terrorism

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In Georgia, 23 people are charged with domestic terrorism. The charge is related to protests against the construction of a police training facility in a forest near Atlanta. Keyanna Jones is a member of an interfaith coalition that asked the city council yesterday to abandon what's known as Cop City.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEYANNA JONES: We are here as clergy to cry loud and spare not. We are opening our mouths and crying with a loud voice to say that we don't want Cop City. I live in East Atlanta. I don't want Cop City.

MARTÍNEZ: Demonstrators have occupied the site since last year. One protester was shot and killed during a police raid in January. Madeline Thigpen has been reporting on this. She is with Capital B in Atlanta. Madeline, can you tell us how police came to arrest people at that construction site and then at a nearby music festival as well?

MADELINE THIGPEN: Yes. So protesters entered the construction site and set fire to multiple construction vehicles. Once the police had that situation under control, they then began to move on to the music festival, which was being hosted by the Stop Cop City movement in an adjacent part of the forest. A number of people were arrested that were music-festival-goers. We do know that many of them were later released that evening. At least one legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild was arrested. He is still being held on domestic terrorism charges. He's an attorney also with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which described his arrest as part of a monthslong escalation of policing tactics against protesters and observers who oppose the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest to build a police training facility.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so 23 people charged with domestic terrorism - is there an explanation why they were charged with that in particular?

THIGPEN: No. But protesters connected with the Stop Cop City movement have been charged with domestic terrorism starting in December. We do know a number that were arrested on the day that the protester Tortuguita was killed have also been charged with domestic terrorism. There hasn't been any clear understanding, as far as I know, to why specifically domestic terrorism charges are being used in this case versus other protest movements.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, police say that many of the people who've been charged are not from Georgia. In fact, Governor Brian Kemp has called them outside agitators - his words. There's local opposition to that, isn't there?

THIGPEN: Yes. I spoke with a resident yesterday who said, you know, they called MLK an outside agitator. So she was very confused as to why they would then begin to use that language in Atlanta, where MLK was from, a city that celebrates him. I spoke to a resident yesterday who said she attended the faith leader press conference at City Hall because she was ready to see people who live in Atlanta make a righteous stand against Cop City.

MARTÍNEZ: Cop City - this training facility that is being built by police in this part of the forest. Why is the construction there so controversial?

THIGPEN: So Weelaunee Forest is currently the largest urban forest in the United States. So there are environmental concerns with protecting this large green space. And then there are also concerns from a lot of racial justice activists who say that this will contribute to the militarization of police, which in turn will contribute to higher uses of force, deadly force, against Black residents.

MARTÍNEZ: And the project - I know it was under construction. Any status report on where that stands?

THIGPEN: No. Since the construction vehicles have been burned, we aren't sure when construction will begin. A member of a community advisory committee did file an appeal that should stop construction. That did not happen. So I think that's part of why the activists decided to enter that site and burn those vehicles. But we don't know yet what the status of the project will be moving forward.

MARTÍNEZ: So I guess protesters can say that they at least paused construction of this site.

THIGPEN: Yes, but I would not say that that means construction will stop. I think it will continue to move forward because they do have the support of the city and local law enforcement, who are ready to see this site begin to be built.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Madeline Thigpen is a reporter with Capital B in Atlanta. Madeline, thank you very much for your reporting.

THIGPEN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.