Prosecutions of ‘Cop City’ protesters in Georgia take ominous turn

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There’s been a shake-up in the prosecution of protesters who have demonstrated against plans for a massive new police compound in Atlanta that critics have dubbed “Cop City.” And the news is raising questions about politicized law enforcement in Georgia. 

More than 40 people are facing domestic terrorism charges in connection with protests in recent months, according to The Associated Press. On Friday, the district attorney of DeKalb County, Sherry Boston, announced that she’ll no longer take part in their prosecutions, which will now be overseen by Georgia’s Republican attorney general, Chris Carr.

The statement from the DeKalb DA’s office said:

Over the last several months, DA Boston and her team have been involved in ongoing discussions with their law enforcement partners about the evidence and charges in those cases. Recent conversations between those agencies have revealed a fundamental difference in prosecutorial philosophy. …

Moving forward, the Georgia Attorney General’s Office will handle the prosecution of the pending cases. Under Georgia law both state and local prosecutors have jurisdiction to pursue indictments of certain offenses, including domestic terrorism.

“My team and I have worked diligently to reach a consensus with the Attorney General’s Office on charging decisions in these cases,” said DA Boston. “At this point, I have decided it is best that we allow them to move forward with the charges they feel are warranted.”

The announcement followed a report from The Intercept last week that the Georgia AG had denied Boston’s request to drop domestic terrorism charges against a Southern Poverty Law Center legal observer who was arrested at the construction site in March.

Critics of “Cop City,” including many faith leaders, oppose the 85-acre facility because it requires destroying part of a forest and they worry that it would contribute to overpolicing in DeKalb, a majority-Black county. One protester, known as Tortuguita, was fatally shot by police in January.

The DeKalb district attorney’s withdrawal from the prosecutions was celebrated by activists. In a statement, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s associate director-counsel, Tona Boyd, called it a “welcome development” but added that it “also deepens our serious concern about whether these arrests have been motivated by something other than an impartial and objective evaluation of the evidence or a just exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”

Indeed, this development is colored by troubling events at the state level. In recent months, Georgia Republicans have taken steps to usurp power from liberal district attorneys and circumvent their wishes. These moves, including legislation that makes it easier to oust DAs from their posts, are part of an effort to cast liberal DAs as soft on crime.

As the NAACP LDF said, it’s good news that the DeKalb DA is no longer engaging in this tough-on-crime charade when it comes to the “Cop City” cases. But the Republican AG still will be — and that’s deeply concerning.

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