March 5 (Reuters) – A fire broke out at the construction site of a police training center in Atlanta on Sunday after a demonstration at the property led to clashes between police and protesters and 35 people were arrested, police said.
The site of the planned Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, derisively dubbed “Cop City” by detractors, has been the scene of escalating clashes as protesters oppose both the increasing militarization of the police force and the development of the forest its defenders call the “police lungs”. Atlanta.”
The police and fire training center is being built on 34.4 acres of a 400-acre site in unincorporated DeKalb County owned by the city, according to the facility’s website.
It is in the greater South River Forest, also known as the Weelaunee Forest.
Sunday’s events kicked off with a music festival that was part of a week of demonstrations against construction. But police said events turned violent as “agitators” donned black clothing, broke into the grounds and launched bricks, stones, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at officers.
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“The illegal actions of the troublemakers could have resulted in bodily harm. Officers were restrained and used non-lethal enforcement to make arrests,” police said.
Heavy smoke could be seen for miles, WSB television reported. Images posted on social media showed flames and smoke billowing from multiple locations on the property. One image showed heavy equipment going up in flames.
Hundreds of people attended Sunday’s events and a group broke up the concert to protest, WSB reported, citing witnesses.
The area was sealed off and a Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) reported to the scene. The fire was later extinguished, WAGA television reported, citing reporters at the scene.
Opponents of the site say they want to preserve an important green space near the Atlanta metropolitan area of 6 million.
“We call on all people in good conscience to stand in solidarity with the movement to stop Cop City and defend Weelaunee Forest,” reads a statement on a website called Defend The Atlanta Forest.
The website promoted a series of events from March 4 to March 11, including live music and bush walks, describing it as the fifth week of such activities.
With more events planned in the coming days, the Atlanta Police Department said they and other law enforcement agencies had a “multi-layered strategy that includes response and arrest.”
The site was the subject of a protest in January that briefly turned violent when protesters set fire to a police car and smashed building windows. Protesters gathered at the time to protest the killing of an activist by law enforcement during a raid to clear the construction site.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Edited by Bradley Perrett and Edwina Gibbs
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