When does lawful protest become criminal activity? That question is at issue in Atlanta, where 57 people have been indicted and arraigned on racketeering charges for actions related to their protest against a planned police and firefighter training center that critics call “Cop City.”
Racketeering charges typically are reserved for people accused of conspiring toward a criminal goal, such as members of organized crime networks or financiers engaged in insider trading. Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr is attempting to build an argument that seeking to stop construction of the police training facility – through actions that include organizing protests, occupying the construction site and vandalizing police cars and construction equipment – constitutes a “corrupt agreement” or shared criminal goal.
The indictment’s justification is rooted in long-standing anti-anarchist sentiments within the U.S. government. However, some civil rights organizations call this combination of charges unprecedented.
As scholars who study environmental change and social justice, we believe the charges seek to suppress typical acts of civil disobedience. They also target grassroots community organizing models and ideas rooted in the practice of mutual aid – people organizing collective networks in order to meet each other’s basic needs.