This story originally appeared in Truthout on May 31, 2023. It is shared here with permission.
Law enforcement officers in Georgia have arrested three top organizers behind a bail fund in Atlanta that has been aiding protesters against Cop City.
Atlanta police arrested the organizers, the CEO, chief financial officer and the secretary for the group behind the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, at their homes on Wednesday morning. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the three were charged with money laundering and charity fraud.
Activists called the arrests an escalation in the state’s attempt to crush the Stop Cop City movement, with participants being hit with increasingly harsh charges.
“This is a major escalation — they’re arresting those who defend the arrested,” wrote Atlanta organizer Micah Herskind. “The implications of these arrests is that not only can you not protest, but you cannot defend those who are arrested for protesting. There is no first amendment in Atlanta.”
In a statement, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) spoke as though the organizers and other anti-Cop City activists were already found guilty of their charges from the GBI. He said that he was “proud” to have arrested the “criminals” who he says “facilitated and encouraged domestic terrorism,” referring to terrorism charges against Cop City protesters.
The city of Atlanta is pursuing a $90 million plan backed by both Republicans like Kemp and Democratic Mayor Andre Dickens to build an 85-acre police militarization compound in a forest in the area. If built, Cop City would be the nation’s largest police training compound, and activists say that it would only worsen brutality by local police, as evidenced by the violent response to nonviolent protesters — all while razing a forest to do so.
The Twitter account for the Defend the Atlanta Forest/Stop Cop City movement, pointed out that the Atlanta Solidarity Fund has aided in lawsuits against the Atlanta Police Department over its arrests of a journalist and protesters in the movement. “This is retaliatory,” the group wrote.
Activists have also pointed out that the GBI’s statement about the arrest, as well as Kemp’s, seem to suggest that the state is preparing to use Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges against the bail fund, which the Atlanta Solidarity Fund has been predicting for months.
The organizers have said that the state appears to be creating a “flimsy narrative” that the group is a criminal organization. So far, over 40 activists have been charged with domestic terrorism for protesting the compound.
The Atlanta Solidarity Fund has been crucial in the fight against Cop City, helping to provide support for protesters hit with bail amounts that have sometimes exceeded $300,000, according to one of the arrested organizers.
“This is targeting of organizers and movements by the police and the state,” said activist Kamau Franklin, with Community Movement Builders, in a statement. “Bail funds have been a part of organizing the Civil Rights movement and labor movement. We will continue to fight back against cop city and the political arrest of our friends and comrades.”
Activists have long maintained that the charges lobbed onto anti-Cop City activists are bogus and that law enforcement are creating false narratives in order to justify the arrests.
Backing up activists’ argument is the fact that police have already been caught lying about one of the most crucial and inhumane actions taken against protesters so far: the killing of Manuel Paez Terán, whose chosen name was Tortuguita, in January. Though police claimed that Tortuguita shot first, a DeKalb County autopsy found that there was no gunpowder residue on Tortuguita’s hands when police shot them 57 times, killing them.