ATLANTA (NewsNation) — The site of a proposed police training facility in Atlanta was attacked Sunday by “violent agitators” during a coordinated, chaotic attack, police said. More than 20 people from around the country face domestic terrorism charges related to the attack.
Two of those arrested are from Georgia but the others hail from around the country, police said. One suspect is from France and another is from Canada, according to police, who did not release further details about the suspects.
The future police training site has been the focus of repeated protests and confrontations, but Sunday’s attack threatened the lives of law enforcement personnel.
A “Stop Cop City” festival was underway nearby to protest the facility’s construction when police said more than 100 people, who used the peaceful protest as a cover, broke away and started a violent, coordinated attack on police personnel and construction equipment at the construction site of a proposed police training center.
A new video from police cameras showed fireworks exploding just inches away from officers trying to lock down the training center.
“They changed into black clothing, entered the construction area, and began throwing large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers,” the Atlanta Police Department said.
The group entered the construction area throwing rocks and other items, including large fireworks, at the police. The site of the planned Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, called “Cop City” by opponents, continues to be the scene of escalating demonstrations.
“This is not a protest, this is criminal activity,” Atlanta Chief of Police Darin Schierbaum said during a press conference Sunday evening. “When you throw commercial-grade fireworks or you throw Molotov cocktails, large rocks, number of items at officers, you’re only intended to harm.”
In the video, a firework landed just inches from an officer who was trying to close the facility gate. Black smoke from the explosions quickly filled the air as construction equipment burned.
Schierbaum said they were very fortunate that no law enforcement officers were injured in the attack.
The site was placed on lockdown following the confrontation between officers and protesters. Police said they arrested at least 35 people but the charges they could face have not been announced. Most of those in custody are not from the Atlanta area, police said.
The Defend the Atlanta Forest group claimed in a tweet that, “The 35 people that police arrested … were not ‘violent agitators,’ but peaceful concertgoers who were nowhere near the demonstration.”
“This was a very violent attack,” Schierbaum said. “This wasn’t about a public safety training center. This was about anarchy. And this was about the attempt to destabilize.”
Schierbaum said that when it is a legitimate protest, they have the full protection of the Atlanta Police Department, but explained that this event wasn’t a protest, it was “criminal activity.”
Those opposing the training site said they’re worried about the militarization of police and the environmental impact the site will have on the land. The opposition has been growing since January, when police shot and killed an environmental activist who police said shot and injured a police officer.
The Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which claims it provides support for those attested at protests, tweeted that there was “indiscriminate police violence tonight against Stop Cop City festival-goers.” The group claimed police seemed to have lashed out at anyone present at the festival.
Sunday’s breach occurred just days into a week of planned demonstrations against the site from those claiming they simply want to save the green space of the Atlanta metropolitan area. Police said they and other law enforcement agencies have a multi-layer strategy which includes reaction and arrest.
Many of those already accused of violence in connection with the training site protests are being charged with domestic terrorism, a felony that carries up to 35 years in prison. Those charges have prompted criticism from some that the state is being heavy-handed.
Lawmakers are considering classifying domestic terrorism as a serious violent felony. That means anyone convicted must serve their entire sentence, can’t be sentenced to probation as a first offender and can’t be paroled unless they have served at least 30 years in prison.
Meanwhile, more protests are planned in coming days, police said Monday. They have encouraged protesters to ensure those protests remain peaceful.
NewsNation reporter Nick Smith contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.