The battle over the future of a massive police-training facility outside Atlanta spilled into the streets of Midtown Manhattan Wednesday evening when three protesters were arrested outside the Plaza Hotel, where Georga Gov. Brian Kemp was the guest of honor at a gala dinner.
The protest, which drew dozens of demonstrators, was held across the street from the hotel, where guests wearing glitzy gowns and black tuxedos walked up red-carpeted stairs and disappeared inside.
Gov. Kemp was on hand to accept an award from the Korea Society for helping Korean businesses settle in Georgia.
The Stop Cop City/Defend the Atlanta Forest movement — which New York City’s Weelaunee Defense Society is a part of — has galvanized opposition over the last two years to the building of the nation’s largest police-training facility on the site of the nation’s largest urban forest. Atlanta’s South River forest is called the Weelaunee forest by its original inhabitants, the Muscogee people, and many protesters.
The protest came at a time when the showdown over Cop City, as the proposed training facility is known, is intensifying.
On Sep. 11, the Vote to Stop Cop City Coalition in Atlanta submitted more than 116,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot for local voters to choose whether or not the mammoth police-training facility should be completed. But Atlanta officials refused to accept the signatures, claiming organizers had missed an Aug. 21 deadline that had previously been extended by a federal judge. The case is currently being reviewed by a federal appeals court.
On Aug. 29, Georgia State Attorney General Chris Carr used a law intended to help take down mafia bosses to file conspiracy charges against 61 people associated with the Stop Cop City movement. Protesters are being prosecuted for activity such as using bail funds, self-publishing magazines and distributing fliers about Tortuguita, a forest defender who was sitting in their tent with their hands up when they were shot fatally by George State Police in January. Forty-three of those charged in the RICO are also facing previous charges of domestic terrorism, and, if convicted, face up to 35 years in prison.
Protest organizers handed out flyers to passersby interested in learning more about the Stop Cop City movement. One organizer read aloud a list of demands; they called for the Atlanta ballot referendum to go forward and for the end of all politically-motivated prosecutions of activists dating back to the George Floyd Uprising in May 2020.
“Forest defender Francis ‘Frankie’ Carroll and should be released from the Fulton County Jail immediately! Victor Puertas, unlawfully arrested in March at the South River Music Festival, remains in ICE detention and should be freed immediately,” the speaker proclaimed. They also amplified Stop Cop City’s continued calls for an independent investigation into the January police killing of protester Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán.
The number of participants — who were outside the Plaza engaging in chants and general noise-making activities — doubled to around 60 within the first half hour of the protest. It was around then that the group split up to be able to protest on either side of the hotel’s east entrance.
There was a heavy police presence — around two dozen NYPD officers encircled the demonstration. At one point, the deafening screams of a protester drowned out the chants. “No! No! No!” She cried repeatedly as another protester was being detained by cops and others nearby began to flee back to the far side of the street, across from the hotel.
Soon, another protester was chased down, tackled to the ground, and cuffed by police. Then, a final arrest was made. A man from inside the ceremony has stepped out to observe the commotion. He lit a cigar, laughed and pulled out his phone to take a selfie with a cop.
As the protest was ending, an organizer invited the remaining attendees to go to Times Square, where other Weelaunee Defense members were gathering to protest the arrival of Peruvian President Dina Boluarte, whose government has violently suppressed protesters since she took power in December after Peru’s democratically-elected president was deposed by his conservative rivals.
These protests are connected to a larger string of New York City demonstrations taking place here during the UN’s annual Climate Summit. The Weelaunee Defense Society participated in a civil disobedience on Sep. 19 during which over 20 arrests were made when activists blocked Bank of America suits from entering the building.
Back at the Plaza, The Indypendent spoke with an organizer with Weelaunee Defense Society NYC, who urged fellow protesters to “keep the momentum of the movement and make sure that they were not arrested in vain.” He also encouraged those who could do so to attend a mass protest convergence in Atlanta Nov. 10–13.
All three arrested protesters have been released from jail.