Protesters clash with police at site of controversial ‘Cop City’ project

Police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters demonstrating against the $90m construction of Atlanta’s new public safety training centre on Monday, which is currently being built in the South River Forest.

A statement released by Dekalb County authorities said that protesters began an “unpermitted march” toward the construction site around 10.30am, blocking two out of four lanes of traffic in the process. Activists against the facility’s construction refer to it as “Cop City”.

About 20 minutes after the demonstration began, officials told the demonstrators over loudspeaker that they were obstructing the roadway and would not be permitted to proceed.

The protesters ignored the orders, the release states, and tried to “force” their way through 30 Dekalb County Police Officers.

Officers then fired tear gas into the group in an attempt to make the crowd disperse. Some protesters also reported hearing “flash bangs” during the demonstration.

Demonstrators then walked back to Gresham Park, where the protest began, at around 11.45am.

“No injuries have been reported and no arrests have been made as of noon,” the statement concluded.

Efforts to construct the site came to a head in January when a 26-year-old demonstrator named Manuel Esteban Paez Terán or “Tortugita” was fatally shot by officers as officials cleared out a part of the forest where environmental activists had been camping.

Last month, Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney George R Christian decided that the officers involved would not face criminal charges over the protester’s death. Instead, determining that the activist fired the first lethal shot after officers launched pepperballs at them.

Officials returned about 57 rounds of gunfire, an independent autopsy found.

“The use of lethal (deadly) force by the Georgia State Patrol was objectively reasonable under the circumstances of this case,” Mr Christian determined.

The activist’s parents were present at the march this week.

Joel Paez said he hopes protesters will continue to defend the forest and the legacy of his child.

Belkis Teran, Tortuguita’s mother, described the march was “one step”.

“We will continue!” she said. “To fight the police, we must be happy, and to be happy we must be strong.”

During the protest, demonstrators planted native trees that have been destroyed ever since the project started in the spring.

A poll of 800 Atlanta residents conducted by Emory University found that individuals remain divided on whether to build the facility.

A group against the project called Vote to Stop Cop City said the show of force by officials displays how increased police presence could be dangerous for the community.

“Today shows once again how Cop City is already terrorising and intimidating our communities, using our tax dollars to brutalise residents and criminalise dissent,” the advocacy organisation said in a statement posted to X.

The training centre is expected to be completed by December 2024.