At Decatur’s Oakhurst Recreation Center on Sunday, about 100 protesters from Atlanta and across the country drilled for possible confrontations with police. Others attended a legal training, or ate a free oatmeal breakfast at the park pavilion. Children made arts and crafts out of pipe cleaner in Day-Glo colors.
Some members of the movement stood in a circle, holding hands.
“We’re going to stop Cop City and build the world where we want to live,” they sang.
Protesters said they were moved to gather in Atlanta because the training center controversy is a crucial moment in the city’s history. Its outcome will decide whether it lives up to past as a home to the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice work, said Sam Beard, a spokesman for the group.
“What’s at stake in the Cop City fight are competing visions for the future,” said Beard, who is from Chicago. “They are completely incompatible with one another. People are coming from around the country and around the world to Atlanta to protect what makes Atlanta special.”
Organizers vowed that Monday’s protests would be nonviolent, but past events have taken ugly turns.
In January, officers fatally shot activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, who was camping with other protesters inside the DeKalb County forest where the proposed training center is now being built. Law enforcement said he fired at them, an accusation his family disputes. A trooper was wounded in the gunfire.
In March, police arrested nearly two dozen people in and around a concert to protest the center, accusing them of vandalism and arson. Organizers said that concert goers were arrested indiscriminately, a mile away from where the destruction took place.
Supporters of the $90 million center say it will make Atlanta a leader in policing and replace outdated law enforcement and fire training facilities. Opponents list a wide range of concerns including worries about police militarization, destruction of a forest, and complaints the city shut them out of the political process to move the project forward.
The conflict has gained national attention and divided locals.
Law enforcement response to the protests, including arrests of activists on domestic terrorism charges and the indictment of at least 60 of them under the state’s racketeering statute, confirmed some of training center opponents’ fears that police and prosecutors would use the full power of law enforcement to suppress dissent, they said Sunday.
Participants in the weekend’s activities were wary of outsiders, with many declining to give their names, provide interviews or chat. Decatur police rolled past the rec center every hour or two.
Protesters trained for possible arrests and violence all weekend. Some learned to provide on-the-spot trauma care by applying tourniquets and administering plastic chest seals to stem bleeding from torso wounds.
They said they have considered a wide range of scenarios for Monday, but cannot predict how events will unfold.
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