Activists in Atlanta plan extended protests against a police training facility
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
From Atlanta, activists plan a week of action opposing a police and fire training facility there.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
City officials recently approved funding for the project. But opponents vowed it will never be built. In recent months, police killed one activist and accused others of being domestic terrorists.
INSKEEP: So NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef has been looking into this. She is in Atlanta.
ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: For people who have not followed this every day, what is this facility? And why has it drawn such attention?
YOUSEF: Well, Steve, it's officially called the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. And it's meant to be a state-of-the-art campus where law enforcement will train. And people I've spoken to have compared this to the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy when they're trying to explain just how significant this issue has become to the far left right now. This has drawn activists from all over because it's rolling together many of - some of the most pressing conflicts of our time, you know? This has been activating police abolitionists, racial justice advocates, also environmental activists who are really alarmed that this would destroy a forest that's been called one of the, quote, "four lungs of Atlanta." And now, Steve, we're also seeing tremendous concern from watchdog groups who say that the state is exercising dangerous government overreach in the way that it has dealt with some of the activists.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. How did police come to say that some of these activists are domestic terrorists?
YOUSEF: Well, in December, we started to see arrests of some of the activists. And law enforcement began alleging that dozens of them belong to a group deemed a domestic violent extremism group. And that has caused some confusion, namely because Steve, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not keep a list of domestic violent extremist groups, you know, because doing so could be construed as criminalizing certain political viewpoints. And we might be starting to see local officials struggling with this now because on Friday, there was this very surprising development. One of the prosecutors here, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, announced that her office will not prosecute 42 of these defendants after all. Here she is speaking on station WABE, saying that local officials have struggled to see eye to eye on all of this.
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SHERRY BOSTON: We had some differences - and when I say we, I mean myself and the attorney general's office - about who should be charged and what they should be charged with.
INSKEEP: I want to understand what's being said there. So the county prosecutor - or a county prosecutor does not want to proceed with this case. But then she refers to the state attorney general. What does that mean for the case?
YOUSEF: That's right. So that's State Attorney General Chris Carr, who, our understanding is, still pursuing these cases. But the thing is, Steve, Carr is a Republican. And so this development has further bolstered this argument for many who've had doubts about the underlying motivation for the case. They see it as a political vendetta against leftist activists and as the state using its authority to repress dissent. Carr's office did not respond to questions or requests for interview.
INSKEEP: What are you watching for this week? When we say a week of action, what does that mean?
YOUSEF: Well, activities will be happening throughout the week. And I'll be watching to see if there's some direct action near the forest where an activist was killed in January, specifically to see if that results in arrests and further allegations of domestic terrorism.
INSKEEP: NPR's Odette Yousef. Thanks for your reporting.
YOUSEF: Sure thing.
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