Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday declared a state of emergency following violent protests in Atlanta against the construction of a police training facility and the killing by authorities of an environmental protester said to have shot a state trooper.
The state of emergency, which authorizes the use of up to 1,000 National Guard troops to respond to incidents of civil unrest, will last until Feb. 9, barring an extension by the governor.
Protesters oppose the construction of the Atlantic Public Safety Center, dubbed “Cop City,” in Dekalb County’s South River Forest. The movement gained national attention last week when a protester was fatally shot during a SWAT raid of the “Defend the Atlanta Forest” group encampment.
Police allege that Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, 26, shot first, although activists who were present during the raid dispute authorities’ version of events. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, the officers involved were not wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting.
Teran’s death sparked global protests against police violence, as activists held vigils from Akron, Ohio, to Kurdistan. Atlanta protests turned violent Saturday, with protesters throwing rocks at the skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation and setting fire to a police cruiser.
In his State of the State address on Wednesday, Kemp decried the protesters as “out-of-state rioters” who “tried to bring violence to the streets of our capital city.” He said it was “just the latest example of why here in Georgia, we’ll always back the blue.”
Kemp called out the National Guard to guard the state Capitol, the governor’s mansion and other public facilities during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and kept them mobilized and providing security at the Capitol well into 2021.
Since the summer of 2021, Defend the Atlanta Forest protesters have engaged in extended tree-sits, rallies, and other forms of resistance against the development of over 380 acres of forest land to build a mock city and tactical training ground for police.
Standoffs between protesters and police have escalated recently, with protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at officers and police employing tear gas and rubber bullets to remove protesters from treehouse encampments. Since December, a dozen protesters have been charged with domestic terrorism under a state law that can carry up to a 35-year prison term.
Activists argue that the construction of the training complex would exacerbate police violence against the predominantly Black and brown communities in the county and perpetuate environmental racism due to chemical runoff from weapons testing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.