Protest as “Domestic Terrorism” – Really, Georgia?

Dollar Stores Politics Protests

New Orleans   Recently, while I was working with our dollar store project in Atlanta, I started hearing about a protestor killed in an encampment during a sweep by police forces that involved a long-running protest over the location approved for a police and training facility.  It was all news to me, either generally below my radar or largely unreported outside of Atlanta.  Asking the MSW students at Georgia State University what was going on, I caught an earful.  This was certainly big news in the Atlanta area.

They call it “Cop City.”  The Atlanta police want to train their officers in dealing with some wild stuff.  Their plans include building a mock urban environment for that purpose, I suppose, to train their forces in some kind of guerrilla-type urban warfare type operations.  The location selected was a forested area in DeKalb County, part of the multi-county outer loop of Atlanta.  Hearing about this from the students, I wasn’t surprised that this complex attracted opposition.

In what is becoming a worrisome contemporary political phenomena of red state Republican forces attacking deep blue cities anyway they can, the Republican attorney general has been issuing charges against various protestors under the newly revised state domestic terrorism laws.  He’s charged more than a dozen protestors under this act so far.  It’s serious business and can lead to a maximum prison sentence of up to 35 years in jail.  According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal,

The state law defines domestic terrorism as, in part, an act ‘intended to cause serious bodily harm, kill any individual or group of individuals, or disable or destroy critical infrastructure, a state or governmental facility’ to coerce a government to alter its public policy…. Before 2017, Georgia’s domestic-terrorism statute required 10 or more people to be killed in an incident for such charges to be filed.  The legislation broadened what was covered and removed the 10-person death threshold.

These revisions were part of the rightwing package that moved forward in a number of states in the wake of various pipeline controversies and worries about sabotage a couple of years ago.  Georgia is first out of the blocks and trying to go big on this!

The protestors are a scruffy bunch of autonomous, self-declared forest protectors, and most of them are from out-of-state, which is part of what may be making this easier for the heavy breathers who want to claim to be sending a message from Georgia to the world.  The police say there have been small fires, some disabled and vandalized equipment, some broken windows, and some yelling at construction workers, all of which is pretty thin soup.  The protestor was killed after shooting and wounding a cop who approached his tent, and was then killed by law enforcement officers.  All of which is grist for their mill in trying to outlaw protests as domestic terrorism.

            How can this be anything other than prosecutorial overreach?  As Stanford University law professor, Shirin Simnar, an expert on terrorism laws was quoted in the Journal, “Call it vandalism, call it property damage, call it trespassing, but to consider all of that to be inherently dangerous to human life make a mockery of the term terrorism.”  He’s hit the nail on the head, except none of this is about terrorism.  It’s all about outlawing protest of any kind that gets in the way, practically or ideologically, of what conservative, authoritarian interests in America want our country to be.