A peaceful protest in downtown Atlanta turned violent Saturday evening when protesters set a police car on fire and started smashing windows.
Six protesters were arrested, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum announced at a news conference on Saturday night. Those people have not been identified and their charges have not been released.
Atlanta Major Andre Dickens said several of those who were arrested did not live in the Atlanta area or in Georgia.
Hundreds of protesters, who were opposed to the construction of an APD training center, gathered at Underground Atlanta before moving down Peachtree St. in the heart of downtown Atlanta.
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Chief Schierbaum said a group of the protesters dressed in all black then began peacefully marching down Peachtree St. When they got to the intersection of Ellis Street, some of the protesters began breaking windows and attacking APD patrol cars. One of the APD cruisers was set on fire.
Within two blocks, Atlanta police officers on the scene had stopped the violence from spreading further into downtown. Chief Schierbaum said the group’s intention was to continue causing damage.
Three businesses, including a Wells Fargo bank, were damaged, Schierbaum said.
No officers or citizens were injured.
Spokespeople with “Stop Cop City,” who have claimed several times that they are peaceful protesters, released a statement saying they are not backing down and do not believe their actions on Saturday night were violent.
“Destruction of material is fundamentally different from violence. All reported acts appear to be explicitly targeted against the financial backers & goons of the Atlanta Police Foundation, a shady nonprofit that funnels weapons and military gear into our city to wage war on black and brown folks. The police have raided the forest for over 7 months, destroying materials by trashing camps and water supplies, threatening the lives of forest defenders and now have murdered one. Protestors are only leveling the playing field & preventing future violence by disabling the economic machine of the Atlanta Police Foundation that seeks to sterilize all life within the Weelaunee Forest.”
They later released an amended statement that read:
“What is the proper reaction to police killing Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Esteban Paez Teran? The destruction of material is fundamentally different from the violence that led to extinguishing someone’s light. We are seeing what we have seen across the country, a community in grief seeking accountability against the financial backers and goons of the Atlanta Police Foundation, a shady nonprofit that funnels weapons and military gear into our city to wage war on Black, Indigenous, Brown and poor folks in the community. The police have evoked violence when they raided the forest for over 7 months, destroying materials by destroying camps and water supplies and threatening the lives of forest defenders. It seems the community is trying to disable the economic machine of the Atlanta Police Foundation that seeks to sterilize all life within the Weelaunee Forest to protect the community they love from further violence.”
Mike Register, the Director of the GBI, said the protesters were not peaceful, but were violent on many occasions.
“Arson, attacking citizens, shooting police officers, using explosives,” Register said at a news conference Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Georgia State Patrol and other agencies were at the site of the proposed facility clearing protesters who had been camped out in the forest for months.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says one of the protesters, Manuel Teran, shot a state trooper and was then killed by return fire.
Friends of Teran, who went by the nickname “Tortuguita,” have repeatedly claimed since the shooting that they were peaceful protesters.
Seven fellow protesters were arrested on Wednesday and charged with domestic terrorism and criminal trespass.
The governor’s office released a statement saying they will not tolerate any unlawful crimes in the name of peaceful protest.
The governor remains well informed of the situation through regular updates from state law enforcement and is actively monitoring the situation. State patrol is well equipped to respond to any and all threats to public safety and is coordinating closely with other state agencies and local PD.
While the state continues to respect peaceful protests, acts of violence against persons or property will NOT be tolerated. Those committing such unlawful acts will be arrested and fully prosecuted.
A short time later, Governor Brian Kemp himself tweeted a statement.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted calling those involved “rioters.” Carr told Channel 2’s Mark Winne earlier this week he was working on a sweeping indictment to charge these protesters with domestic terrorism.
Atlanta police released the following statement to Channel 2 Action News:
“The Atlanta Police Department is aware of the ongoing events, and we will continue to monitor them and address them accordingly. We stand ready to respond to demonstrations to ensure the safety of those in our communities and those exercising their first amendment rights, or to address illegal activity, should the need arise.”
At 6:45 pm, Atlanta police released an update saying:
“Atlanta Police have responded to a group damaging property at several locations along Peachtree St. Several arrests have been made at this time and orders have been restored to the downtown area. This is still an active and ongoing investigation and we will not be able to provide specifics on arrest numbers or damaged properties, at this time.”
Chief Schierbaum said the FBI, GBI, ATF and Georgia Attorney General’s Office are assisting them in their investigation.
Channel 2 Action News is working to get additional information.
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Watch the full news conference with Atlanta Major Andre Dickens and Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum here.