More than 60 people, including Bloomington activist Maggie Gates, were indicted Aug. 29 on charges of racketeering connected to their protest movement opposing construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, commonly referred to as “Cop City,” in Atlanta, Georgia.
In March, Gates, along with more than 20 other protesters, was arrested while protesting the $90 million police and firefighting training facility being built in Weelaunee Forest outside Atlanta. Many environmental activists and other protestors are concerned about the militarization of the police through this facility.
The protesters were arrested during a police raid at a music festival being held in opposition to the facility’s construction. Atlanta police argue the protestors used the festival as a cover and conducted violent activities. An Atlanta Police Department press release states the protestors changed into black clothing and threw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks.
Gates was charged with domestic terrorism and originally denied bail, according to court documents. Gates spent nearly a month in jail before being granted conditional bond on March 31. Under this conditional bond, the activist was prohibited from entering Georgia except for legal reasons. She was also not allowed to contact her codefendants.
In response to these charges, more than 60 organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Civil Liberties Defense Center, sent a letter to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council Chair Tasha Mosley, urging them to drop the domestic terrorism charges brought against the protestors. The letter stated the charges stigmatize anti-protest measures and will dissuade future activists from engaging in confrontational protest tactics.
“These charges represent a political decision to pursue draconian charges disproportionate to the alleged offenses committed,” the letter states. “The decision to charge domestic terrorism on the basis of speculative guilt by association raises concerns surrounding First Amendment associative rights. Painting the movement with a broad brush violates basic principles of individualized criminal justice and runs afoul constitutionally-protected civil liberties.”
Carr will prosecute the case, which was filed in Fulton County. The indictment claims all the individuals listed in the indictment knowingly joined Defend the Atlanta Forest – which it describes as a conspiracy and an “enterprise of militant anarchists, eco-activists and community organizers”– in attempt to prevent the center from being built.
In a statement posted to Instagram, Gates said she supports her co-defendants.
“Attorney General Chris Carr and the Atlanta Police Foundation are the only people running a conspiracy here,” the statement said. “Instead of allowing fear to rule us, we will continue to do what we’ve been doing – highlighting the state’s lousy attempt at repression to build more solidarity and mobilization to stop copy city.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, RICO, or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, establishes new penal prohibitions and provides enhanced sanction and remedies for dealing with “the unlawful activities of those engaged in organized crime.” RICO allows a defendant to be convicted and separately punished for patterns of racketeering activity and for a substantive violation of RICO. RICO also prohibits further involvement with the organization of convicted racketeering associates.