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Cop City Bail Fund Arrests Raise Red Flags For Free Speech

Cop City Bail Fund Arrests Raise Red Flags For Free Speech
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“Bailing out protestors who exercise their constitutionally protected rights is simply not a crime."

Georgia police arrested three protestors on Wednesday, accusing them of money laundering and charity fraud — for organizing a bail fund.

For the past year, activists have fought against the construction of a large police training facility near Atlanta, colloquially named "Cop City," as they say that it will devastate the local forests and exacerbate the militarization of police forces in an area with a large low-income and Black population. The center is expected to cost the city $67 million in funding.

Law enforcement has increasingly cracked down on the protests, receiving criticism for what activists call retaliation against lawful protests. Marlon Scott Kautz, 39, Savannah D. Patterson, 30, and Adele MacLean, 42, were charged with the financial crimes, and accused of misleading donors. Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, called their arrests an “extreme provocation" from police.

“Bailing out protestors who exercise their constitutionally protected rights is simply not a crime,” she said in a statement. “In fact, it is a historically grounded tradition in the very same social and political movements that the city of Atlanta prides itself on. Someone had to bail out civil rights activists in the 60s — I think we can all agree that community support isn’t a crime."

Even James Altman, the judge overseeing the trial, expressed skepticism in the prosecutors' case, telling them: “I don’t find it real impressive. ... There’s not a lot of meat on the bones of thousands of dollars going to illegal activities.”

Earlier this year, Georgia state police shot and killed environmental activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán while they were camping in the forest. Police claimed that Terán opened fire on them, but an incident report indicated that officers fired pepper balls through the tent flap, and that Terán had no gunshot residue on their hands. The autopsy revealed that Terán was shot 57 times.

Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock expressed concern around the death of Terán as well as the recent arrests, noting that the increased police responses infringe on the First Amendment rights of the protestors protected in the Constitution.

"As a pastor who has long been engaged in justice work, I am concerned by what we know about last Wednesday’s show of force against the organizers of an Atlanta bail fund, & the questions it raises," he tweeted, continuing, "These tactics, coupled with the limited public information provided so far, can have a chilling effect on nonviolent, constitutionally-protected free speech activities those of us in the fight for justice have been engaged in for years."

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