On March 5, Atlanta police arrested 23 people who live outside Georgia as they listened to a concert in the South Atlanta Forest, also known by its indigenous name, the Weelaunee Forest. They were all charged with domestic terrorism and most were held 2-1/2 weeks or more before they were were released on bail. Police say they were responding to the destruction of construction equipment that occurred in another part of the forest.
Those arrested had come to Atlanta in response to a call from opponents of Cop City, a $90 million, militarized police training facility that is poised to destroy at least 83 acres of the forest to build a fake town that includes shooting ranges and a helicopter landing pad for police to practice urban warfare. The 23 new suspects brought the total number of people charged with domestic terrorism in Atlanta to 42. Several remain in jail, either held without bond or on bail as high as $250,000.
The Cop City project is opposed by many residents of nearby neighborhoods, which are mostly low-income and African American. Opponents say it will increase police repression and negative health impacts, such as asthma from clear-cutting the trees. In January, a young forest defender known as “Tortuguita” was shot 57 times and killed by police. Although officers involved maintain he shot first, that story has been discredited by a recent independent autopsy report. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with 19-year-old Ayla King from Massachusetts about her experience being arrested, held in jail from March 5-23, and facing up to 35 years on the domestic terrorism charge.
[Web editor’s note: The audio version of this interview has been edited to fit broadcast time constraints.]
AYLA KING: All I can say about that is that I feel the police were unnecessarily violent and it was a very scary time.
So, after I was arrested, I was put together, sitting on the ground with multiple other people in the parking lot, or the side of a street, having police officers watch over us. Eventually they moved us to a separate parking lot away from the scene of everything because they said it was too chaotic there. We were in handcuffs for at least six hours, being interviewed individually in this parking lot.
I don’t think we got to the jail until 3 a.m. and I was actually detained around 6 or 6:30 p.m., so this was a very long process just getting to the jail.
While I was waiting in this parking lot, there were officers from Atlanta, surrounding counties, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. They had very large guns, they had military-looking equipment, cars and such. This was a very intimidating experience. Everybody was just sat down in this parking lot for hours on end, waiting to see what happens next. At this point I think there were 40 people detained, and they let everyone from Georgia go, which left 23 people.
When I actually got to the jail, they had us stand outside, gave us each Covid tests, brought us inside individually to take our mug shots and take our belongings. Then we got put in the holding cell, where I spent about 24 hours. The lights in the holding cell were constantly on. If you wanted to get any sleep, your best bet was sleeping on the floor and they gave us a blanket we could use.
MELINDA TUHUS: So there were no cots?
AYLA KING: There were no cots in the holding cell, nope.
MELINDA TUHUS: And you were with the other people who were arrested or were you with other people who were not part of that arrest?
AYLA KING: At first I was with all of the women that were arrested and we quickly became friends just because we all had similar experiences and we wanted to make it through this traumatic experience together. We would do things like tell each other stories, play games together just trying to pass the time and cheer each other up.
Eventually other people came in. We had lots of conversations in there, we spent lots of time trying to cheer each other up while we didn’t even know what we were charged with at this time. They eventually gave us breakfast, which was cold, unseasoned oatmeal and an apple.
They then eventually took me out of the holding cell, gave me the jail uniform – just the orange sweats and shirt and the white undershirt. Then I was put in a different holding cell waiting to get assigned to a pod. That didn’t take as long as the first holding cell. When I got assigned to a pod, they took me up to the fourth floor and I luckily was able to go into this pod with another person that was arrested with me on that date, which felt nice because they were in a similar situation to me.
MELINDA TUHUS: So, what was actually written on your charge sheet that justified the charge of domestic terrorism?
AYLA KING: So they gave me a warrant which appears to be copied and pasted from a lot of people’s warrants, that said I had mud on my boots and a metal shield. And it doesn’t seem possible to me that so many people had metal shields when I didn’t see a single one.
MELINDA TUHUS: How much was your bail?
AYLA KING: It was $5,000, which was very low compared to other people. I know other people had up to $250,000.
MELINDA TUHUS: Did the Atlanta Solidarity Fund pay your bail?
AYLA KING: It was the ASF. They paid my bail; they’re helping me with legal fees.
MELINDA TUHUS: So your charge is domestic terrorism. What are you looking at? Are you getting therapy for this completely traumatizing experience?
AYLA KING: Yes, I am. I’m actually reaching out to people that the Solidarity Fund recommended and they’re doing that for free because they just want to support the movement.
Learn more about the Stop Cop City campaign at stopcop.city, Stop Cop City Solidarity
at stopcopcitysolidarity.org and the Atlanta solidarity defense fund
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