ACTION ALERT: This is a call to stand in solidarity with the 61 Stop Cop City (aka Defend the Atlanta/Weelaunee Forest) co-defendants who have been indicted on bogus RICO* charges in a highly political prosecution against a broad social movement fighting deforestation and police militarization in Atlanta.
(photo credit to the https://atlsolidarity.org/#why site. )
We extend particular solidarity to one of these co-defendants, one of our own: Ph.D. student Hannah Kass, jointly affiliated with the Department of Geography and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In early 2021, the Atlanta City Council leased a former plantation and prison farm to the Atlanta Police Foundation, which plans to clear-cut over 300 acres of the Weelaunee Forest to build a $90 million dollar militarized police training facility, funded by taxpayers as well as a range of large corporations. The plan for the facility, set near the predominantly-Black neighborhoods of Dekalb County, Georgia, mirrors the mock cities built by the United States military in the 1960s to contain the rebellions of the civil rights movement. In these training centers, police forces have historically tested the militarized tactics of urban street protest repression. The mock city design of the training facility has earned it the nickname “Cop City” by critics. Swiftly approved by the city council despite protests and extensive public comment against it, the project continues to face fierce opposition from Atlanta-area constituents.
While completing preliminary research for her dissertation research regarding the movement, Hannah was falsely arrested on felony charges over a year ago following a protest. These pending charges are the sole grounds on which Hannah has been indicted under RICO.
In the past two years, state repression against the movement opposing Cop City and defending the Weelaunee forest has escalated dramatically. The movement has been defined by decentralized and autonomous action, using a diversity of tactics, many of which have been met with criminal charges. Forms of non-violent action have resulted in domestic terrorism charges. Bail fund organizers have had their homes raided by a SWAT team and been charged with financial crimes. On January 18, 2023, Georgia State Patrol officers brutally murdered one forest defender, Manuel Paez Teran, known in the forest as “Tortuguita.” An independent autopsy revealed that Tortuguita was sitting cross-legged, with their hands up in surrender, when they were shot 57 times.
On September 5, the state intensified its repression, indicting Hannah and 60 others on RICO charges. The indictment alleges that a broad swath of people from around the country are involved in a criminal conspiracy to stop Cop City. This alleged conspiracy is claimed to have begun on May 25, 2020, the day George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers, sparking nationwide uprisings demanding police abolition.
The indictments suggest that completely legal protest activities — such as mutual aid, bail fund organizing, handing out fliers, distributing political literature, or attending a music festival — are furthering a criminal conspiracy. They also suggest that protest activities which target property rather than people such as trespassing, vandalism, or arson should not be prosecuted as individual and contextual crimes. Rather, the indictment conflates these protest tactics with terrorism and criminal conspiracy. In reality, movement participants' actions support a social movement. This indictment weaponizes the criminal legal system to quash political dissent. It is unlikely that the indictment will hold up in court, particularly because its accusations in themselves constitute a conspiracy of the state's own creation. Still, this prosecution sets an authoritarian precedent for the criminalization of social movements in the U.S. more broadly.
If allowed to stand, it would set a precedent for the collective punishment of large groups of like-minded people, regardless of their actual deeds.
As scholars, researchers, organizers, activists, and educators, we value critical dialogues and movements for social justice. The movement against Cop City is an integral part of such dialogues. Academic research, methodologies, and pedagogy must be rooted in the commitment to academic freedom. Academics should therefore be deeply concerned about the criminalization of social movements and the harmful consequences suffered by our colleagues.
Hannah’s case highlights the importance of researchers’ rights to freely conduct research. Hannah’s prosecution, if allowed to proceed, could result in a chilling effect on researchers exploring crucial topics, including but not limited to criminalized social movements.
We therefore must demand that all charges to be dropped against Hannah and her 60 co-defendants. Urge your colleagues across UW and beyond to stand in solidarity with these defendants in the face of unconstitutional repression tied to ongoing legacies of racism, environmental destruction, and police militarization.
Hannah and her co-defendants need our support! FREE THEM ALL!
Sign a petition to the Attorney General and the District Attorneys of Fulton County and Dekalb County, demanding they drop the charges: https://forms.gle/DV43zBLthiB13B6T9
Donate to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a bail and legal defense fund for forest defenders: https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/contribute-to-the-atlanta-solidarity-fund
Alert sent to WNPJ by John Peck of the WNPJ member group, Madison Infoshop - email@example.com.
Hannah has been a Madison Infoshop volunteer.
*RICO: Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations