ATLANTA — Hundreds of activists breached the site of a proposed police and fire training center in Atlanta’s wooded outskirts on Sunday, burning police and construction vehicles and a trailer, and setting off fireworks toward officers stationed nearby.
The Atlanta Police Department said 35 people had been detained, adding that agitators also threw large rocks, bricks and Molotov cocktails.
The destruction occurred on the second day of what is supposed to be a weeklong series of demonstrations to protest the building of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, a planned 85-acre campus owned by the city.
The complex would include classrooms, an amphitheater and spaces where law enforcement officers can simulate shootouts and high-speed chases, and firefighters can learn to drive fire trucks and battle blazes. Opponents derisively call it Cop City.
The agitators used the cover of a peaceful protest “to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers,” the Atlanta Police said in a statement, adding that multiple pieces of construction equipment were destroyed. It was not immediately clear whether anyone was injured.
Tensions have escalated between police officers and protesters over the forested area in recent months. Environmental advocates want the woods — which span more than 1,000 acres — preserved as one of the region’s most significant green spaces. Other activists are concerned that the development of the training site will enable the increased militarization of police forces. Those opposed to the center began organizing against the complex shortly after the Atlanta City Council authorized it in 2021.
In January, a confrontation as the police were clearing demonstrators out of the woods left a 26-year-old protester, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, dead and a state trooper seriously injured.
On Sunday, many demonstrators — a subset of the several hundred protesters who attended and stayed behind in an area where music was playing — wore black and camouflage, their faces masked, as they trudged through tall grass and mud to the construction site, uprooting small fences along the way. As vehicles were set ablaze, law enforcement officers looked on and initially did not intervene.
An Atlanta Police helicopter circled overhead. After a few minutes, the protesters returned to an area away from the construction site where they had been gathering since Saturday, where live music played on speakers. Multiple law enforcement agencies including the Georgia State Patrol responded, and the authorities later converged on that area and detained people.
The cost of the planned center, which is in DeKalb County, is estimated at $90 million, and a nonprofit organization, the Atlanta Police Foundation, is raising most of it.
Activists opposed to the development began their planned week of protests on Saturday with a rally, a march through the South River Forest, and a music and arts festival.
Neelam Bohra contributed reporting.