NLG Condemns Indictments of Anti-Cop City Protesters

Georgia AG aims to criminalize all protest movements
Georgia AG aims to criminalize all protest movements. | Photo:

Contact: Suzanne Adely, President of the National Lawyers Guild:

September 5, 2023

NEW  YORK/ATLANTA – The National Lawyers Guild condemns in the strongest terms the state of Georgia’s indictments, announced today, Tuesday, September 5, against 61 people targeted for allegedly being part of the movement to #StopCopCity. These indictments, filed by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, aim to quell the growing, massive public movement to bring an end to the construction of a military police training facility in the Atlanta Forest, and to use RICO, domestic terrorism and money laundering charges to portray a popular movement as an unlawful conspiracy.

“The National Lawyers Guild strongly condemns the state of Georgia’s organized effort to silence, criminalize, and punish movements for justice,” says NLG President Suzanne Adely. The detainees facing these unjust charges are currently being held at the Fulton County Jail, where 9 people have already died so far this year, further evidence of the crisis situation to which this protest movement is responding.

“AG Chris Carr did not arrive here alone. With the blessing of two Atlanta Mayoral and City Council administrations and under the directive of the Atlanta Police Foundation, this is truly The Atlanta Way: to bulldoze community concerns, to crush public opposition by repression of free speech, and to retaliate against protestors,” says Susi Durán, National Lawyers Guild Atlanta chair. “The City of Atlanta administration has a choice: continue facilitating these attacks on our civil rights for political & economic gains, or condemn them. Until then we remain unintimidated and undeterred. “

The indictments are clearly intended to serve a political end: that is, to silence the protest movement, to prevent it from having access to attorneys, bail support and even legal observation. Among the 61 being charged include people arrested for handing out flyers, for serving as legal observers, for providing bail support and for fundraising for the campaign. The indictment itself stretches back to the day of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, despite the fact that Cop City was not announced until 11 months later. It attempts to render all mass protest against police violence and racism – including the killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police – an “unlawful conspiracy” or “racketeering.”

Not only does the indictment pose a direct threat to Constitutional rights, most notably the First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and association, it further comes in violation of international law, notably the U.S.’ obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Notably, the indictment was issued after attorney Stanley Cohen filed a pre-conviction writ of habeas corpus based on the First Amendment and the Georgia Constitution against the unconstitutional conditions placed on his client, then charged with domestic terrorism, and against the domestic terrorism statute in general. The state failed to respond in a timely manner.  As stated in an earlier April 10 letter from NLG, Human Rights Watch, and more than 40 other human and environmental rights groups, legal support resources such as the movement fundraising organizations targeted in this indictment offer necessary services protected under the U.S. Constitution.

Kamau Franklin of Community Movement Builders said, “The Stop Cop City Movement will not be intimidated by continued false charges and we will not be criminalized. Our movement is broad, our tactics diverse and our aim is to continue to fight police and state terror and protect our comrades.”

The indictment does not attempt to hide its political motivations. It dedicates nearly five pages to demonizing “anarchism,” followed by three further pages aiming to criminalize the entire national and local movement against police violence and racism. Despite recognizing the reality that the movement to stop Cop City has diverse support from many movements, the indictment declares that “the group shares a unified opposition to the construction of the Atlanta Police Department Training Facility” in an attempt to establish shared political commitment as an element of racketeering.

In fact, the text of the indictment generally does nothing more than describe a popular campaign to resist the creation of a militarized policing facility in a local forest in Atlanta. It is not criminal to raise money to support protests, to spend money on demonstrations and supplies, to have a political ideology or viewpoint, to run social media accounts or host websites, to write articles about policing, to reject capitalism or to object to the harmful use of private property. These actions are the basis of every successful social movement – and it is, therefore, every social movement in place now and every future movement being targeted by Georgia’s state repression.

The National Lawyers Guild has used law to promote human rights over property interests for 85 years. The NLG Legal Observer program trains volunteers to witness police conduct. For more information about NLG’s activist support programs, please visit the NLG website.

Action Item: 

  • The Southern Center for Human Rights has issued a call for First Amendment attorneys to support activists accused in this case. Contact if you are interested and able to provide support.

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