ATLANTA — A protest turned violent in downtown Atlanta on Saturday night following the death of an environmental activist who was killed this week after authorities said the 26-year-old activist shot a state trooper.
Masked activists dressed in black threw rocks and lit fireworks in front of a skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation, shattering large glass windows. They then torched a police car and vandalized other buildings with anti-police graffiti as stunned tourists scattered.
The violent protesters were a subsection of hundreds of protesters who gathered and marched down Atlanta’s famous Peachtree Street to mourn the death of the protester, a non-binary person who went by the name Tortuguita and used the pronouns they/it.
Tortuguita was killed on Wednesday when authorities expelled a small group of protesters from the site of a planned Atlanta-area public safety training center that activists have dubbed “Cop City.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Tortuguita was killed after shooting and wounding a state trooper, but activists questioned the official version of events, calling it a “murder” and demanding an independent investigation.
According to the GBI, the incident was not recorded on body cameras. The GBI said on Friday it had determined that the officer was shot in the abdomen by a bullet from a gun that was in Tortuguita’s possession.
News of Saturday’s protest had circulated widely in advance on social media and among left-wing activists, with some handing out fliers that read: “Police killed a protester. Stand up. Fight back.”
A police statement said protesters damaged property in several locations along Peachtree Street, a corridor of hotels and restaurants, adding that several arrests had been made and “order was quickly restored to the downtown space.”
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
“This is still an active and ongoing investigation and we will not be able to provide details on the number of arrests or property damaged at this time,” police said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp condemned the violence and thanked law enforcement officers who responded.
“Violence and unlawful destruction of property are not acts of protest,” the Republican governor said. tweeted. “These are crimes that will not be tolerated in Georgia and will be fully prosecuted.
Opponents of the training center have been protesting for over a year by building platforms in the surrounding trees and camping on the site.
They say the $90 million project, which would be built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, involves cutting down so many trees that it would be harmful to the environment. They are also opposed to investing so much money in a facility they say will be used to practice “urban warfare”.
The GBI said about 25 camps were located and cleared on Wednesday and mortar-type fireworks, slashing weapons, pellet rifles, gas masks and a blowtorch were recovered.
Seven people were arrested during the operation and charged with domestic terrorism and criminal trespass, with other charges pending, the GBI said. They range in age from 20 to 34 and none are Georgia residents.
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