Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency, a move that allows him to deploy as many as 1,000 Georgia National Guard troops this weekend following violent clashes with protesters over a proposed public safety center, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The governor’s aides described it as a precautionary measure as authorities also monitor the threat of protests over the beating death of Tyre Nichols, the Memphis motorist whose fatal beating by police will be shown in body-camera footage to be released Friday evening.
Kemp's order invokes the clash in Atlanta that took place last Saturday night as a small group of masked demonstrators hurled rocks and lit fireworks in downtown Atlanta, setting an unoccupied police cruiser ablaze. Authorities arrested at least six people and said they recovered explosive devices. They had converged on a skyscraper-lined section of Peachtree Street after dozens of protesters gathered at nearby Underground Atlanta to demonstrate against the city’s plan to build the training center, dubbed "Cop City," on forestland in DeKalb County. The event was also intended to memorialize activist Manuel Teran, who was fatally shot by a state trooper at the project’s site on Jan. 18. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Teran was killed after he shot and wounded a state trooper. The Atlanta activists take inspiration from environmental defenders in other parts of the world, where deadly clashes and targeted killings are common, CBS News reports. Activists loosely connected through the grassroots network Defend the Atlanta Forest started arriving in the area after the facility was announced. For nearly two years activists say they have been protesting the $90-million training campus through peaceful sit-ins in the forest. The protest has attracted supporters from outside the state to the Atlanta area. Their goal, they say in a statement on their website, is to protect an ecosystem "home to wetlands that filter rainwater and prevent flooding" and is "one of the last breeding grounds for many amphibians in the region." "The movement to prevent the development of Cop City is a fight against hundreds of years of racialized violence and ecological destruction," the website adds. As part of their protest, activists have built campsites, filed petitions, and hosted rallies and educational events. On their website, they also admit that they have vandalized property owned by the Police Foundation and contractors, and sabotaged construction equipment.