A protest turned violent in downtown Atlanta on Saturday night in the wake of the death of an environmental activist who was killed this week after authorities said the 26-year-old shot a state trooper.
Masked activists dressed in all black threw rocks and lit fireworks in front of a skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation, shattering large glass windows. They then lit a police car on fire and vandalized other buildings with anti-police graffiti as stunned tourists scattered.
The violent protesters were a subsection of hundreds of demonstrators who had gathered and marched up Atlanta’s famed Peachtree Street to mourn the death of the protester, a nonbinary person who went by the name Tortuguita and used they/it pronouns.
Tortuguita was killed Wednesday as authorities cleared a small group of protesters from the site of a planned Atlanta-area public safety training centre that activists have dubbed “Cop City.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said Tortuguita was killed after shooting and injuring a state trooper, but activists have questioned officials’ 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 Friday that it determined the trooper was shot in the abdomen by a bullet from a handgun that was in Tortuguita’s possession.
Word of Saturday’s protest had been widely circulated ahead of time on social media and among leftist activists, with some passing out flyers that read, “Police killed a protester. Stand up. Fight back.”
A police statement said the protesters damaged property at several locations along Peachtree Street, a corridor of hotels and restaurants, adding that several arrests were made and “order was quickly restored to the Downtown space.”
There were no immediate reports of any injuries.
“This is still an active and ongoing investigation and we will not be able to provide specifics on arrests numbers or property damaged, at this time,” police said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp decried the violence and thanked responding officers.
“Violence and unlawful destruction of property are not acts of protest,” the Republican governor tweeted. “They are crimes that will not be tolerated in Georgia and will be prosecuted fully.
Opponents of the training center have been protesting for over a year by building platforms in surrounding trees and camping out at the site.
They say the $90m project, which would be built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, involves cutting down so many trees that it would be environmentally damaging. They also oppose investing so much money in a facility they say will be used to practice “urban warfare.”
The GBI said about 25 campsites were located and removed Wednesday and mortar-style fireworks, edged weapons, pellet rifles, gas masks and a blow torch were recovered.
Seven people were arrested during the raid and charged with domestic terrorism and criminal trespass, with other charges pending, the GBI said. They range in age from 20 to 34 years, and none are Georgia residents.