A conceptual illustration of tree plantings at the main buildings of the proposed public safety training center. (Image by Atlanta Police Foundation.)

A diverse array of major human rights and press freedom groups are among 90 organizations calling on Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to drop controversial racketeering charges against “Cop City” protesters.

Among signatories to a letter announced Sept. 28 are Amnesty International USA, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, PEN America, Greenpeace USA, March for Our Lives and the Movement for Black Lives. Similar to a letter sent in March decrying the use of domestic terrorism charges against protesters, the new letter calls the use of the state Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law a political attempt to chill free speech. Both letters were organized by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Defending Rights & Dissent.

“Overcharging alleged offenses as a conspiracy chills First Amendment-protected activity and tars political speech as intrinsically violence-prone, casting aspersions upon the Stop Cop City movement as a whole,” says the letter in part. “As a matter of democratic necessity, we urge you to drop this selective prosecution of political dissidents.”

In an indictment revealed earlier this month in Fulton County Superior Court, Carr’s office calls the Defend the Atlanta Forest (DTAF) movement opposing Atlanta’s public safety training center a criminal organization of “anti-police” anarchists. It charged 61 people with racketeering and other major felonies and was instantly criticized by protesters and free-speech groups.

The indictment contained factual errors about such topics as the training center’s land ownership and never clearly defined the supposed DTAF organization or who runs it. Some legal activities are listed as contributing acts in the alleged conspiracy, including owning a book and linking to a TV news story. It claimed that the RICO “conspiracy” predated the training center plan by several months, rooting it in the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the police killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.

The Sept. 28 letter expresses particular concern about the RICO indictment’s charging of bail-fund organizers and people who distributed leaflets identifying a police officer as the one who killed the protester known as Tortuguita in an alleged shootout. 

“The indictment threatens political organizing, protected speech and press freedom, and the right to protest writ large,” says the letter, which also alludes to Atlanta’s Civil Rights history.

“Just as it would have been nonsensical to prosecute Morehouse students arrested during civil rights movement sit-ins as conspirators with the organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, this indictment takes the absurd leap of collapsing diverse protests into a masterminded conspiracy simply because the protests share similar goals,” says the letter. “By the logic of this indictment, every movement for social change would be a target for criminalization.”

Several signers added further criticism in a press release. Amnesty International USA called the indictment an “absurdly grotesque abuse of the criminal legal system.” The Freedom of the Press Foundation said it “makes a mockery of the First Amendment and the entire criminal justice system.” 

The Center for Constitutional Rights called a “ludicrous and terrifying” new level of criminalizing speech, even in comparison to international examples. “Attorney General Carr has fabricated an expansive racketeering conspiracy from a jumble of scraps — a zine encountered on the forest floor, a flyer posted on a mailbox, reimbursements for bathrooms for a public event in a park — almost all of which are protected by the First Amendment,” said the organization in the press release.

Community Movement Builders (CMB), an Atlanta organizer involved in the protest movement, was among the signers. “The only conspiracy here is the one between the state and the city to unjustly charge organizers,” said CMB founder Kamau Franklin in the press release.

“You cannot silence a movement, Mr. Carr,” said Sue Udry, executive director of Defending Rights & Dissent, in the press release.

See the letter and a full list of signers here.

The backdrop for this debate is many other allegations of free-speech and free-press violations by authorities attempting to crack down on “Cop City” protests. They include the arrests of dozens of protesters and journalists, APD’s second-in-command urging residents to promote a “narrative” that any out-of-state protester is a terrorist, the removal of a skeptical member from an official advisory committee, lawyers attempting to demand internal records of advocacy journalists, and Georgia Tech’s removal of a student journalist’s blog post.

Join the Conversation


  1. What’s happening in regards to Cop City isn’t the Atlanta Way.
    It’s the Birmingham Way. As in the Birmingham of the 1960s.
    That it’s being pursued by black leaders makes it doubly sickening.

    I’m not against a training center. But this is a statewide responsibility, which should be funded by the state and not the city, and placed where people want it. Spending $90 m on something that will train the suburb’s next generation of storm trooopers is a waste of taxpayer money.

  2. Non-violent protest is met with non-violent response. Violent is met with the appropriate response. We all all have a duty to act within the laws. Be against something is not a license to take any action you choose.

  3. Half the truth is a whole lie. This is a one sided propaganda hit piece posing as news. The novelist forgot to mention that these anarchists have been involved in violence, including attacking police officers, the destruction of public and private properties, had repeatedly disobeyed lawful orders to desist, etc.

    The whole language of this article sounds like something written in a Communist manifesto. Using terms like “alleged” shoot out when we know factually that an officer was shot (still recoving) by the demonstrator, and the evidence shows the handgun he possessed had been purchased by him.

    The inflammatory use of the misnomer “cop city”. If the public can’t trust the SaportaReport to get the name right what can we trust them with?

    Do better!

    1. Georgia State Police, Governor Kemp’s personal hit squad that doesn’t wear body cameras, killed Tortuguita, a protestor in the Dekalb County public park, Intrenchment Creek Park not on the cop city site, during open park hours while they were seated in a cross legged position with their hands up, 57 bullet wounds in their body according to both official and independent autopsy reports.

      Body cam footage from a nearby Atlanta Police officer captures repeated police radio chatter, he was quoted saying “they f****d their own officer up??” Georgia Bureau of Investigation has yet release the findings of their investigation to the public or to the family of the killed protestor. Coincidentally, GBI was also responsible for orchestrating the multi-agency raid on the forest that day. Police are investigating themselves and not releasing their report which casts serious doubts on their claim that the protestor shot first, or even at all. Considering the lengths the GBI has gone through to cover-up this investigation, it is difficult to believe any police claims, particularly about the gun. Interestingly, the gun claimed to be recovered at the scene was a Smith & Wesson Military & Police, a common police standard issue service weapon (hence the name) as well as an incredibly common caliber, 9mm.

      Regardless, as I’m sure conservatives are well aware, the right to bear arms is a fundamentally cherished Constitutional right, a right supposedly afforded to anyone, especially registered firearm owners. And never mind the fact that the multi-agency police raid was armed to the teeth with automatic rifles and chemical weapons, no doubt scared and trigger happy, instilled with the fear of the “violent” anarchist rhetoric being spread by the governor himself. The conservative double standards will make your head spin, I hope you can get off the merry-go-round without getting sick.

      You should check out John’s latest piece about how three of those charged with RICO have a long history in Atlanta of exposing police abusive arrests and police first amendment rights violations. Of course the police, the city and the state would set their sights on those who hold them accountable, police are not used to actually suffering consequences for their abuses of power and violations of free speech. https://saportareport.com/trio-targeted-in-cop-city-rico-charges-have-a-history-of-exposing-police-misdeeds/columnists/johnruch/

  4. Then prosecute the individual crimes and don’t try to blow it up into something it isn’t. You are using more propagandist language than the article did. The point of the article that you’re trying to gloss over with your own alarmist verbiage is that the RICO charge is way overblown and is an attempt to block all protests of any kind.

  5. The author omitted the fact that these anarchists have engaged in violent acts, such as assaulting police officers, destroying public and private property, and willfully ignoring several legal orders to stop.

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