Violent protest in downtown Atlanta over the killing of an activist

ATLANTA (AP) — A demonstration turned violent in downtown Atlanta Saturday night in the wake of the killing of an environmental activist by authorities this week after officials said the 26-year-old shot a state trooper.

Masked activists dressed in black threw rocks and lit fireworks in front of a skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Corporation, shattering large glass windows. They then set a police cruiser on fire, smashed more windows, and scrawled the walls with anti-police graffiti, as distraught tourists splattered.

The violent protesters were a subsection of the hundreds of protesters who gathered and marched down Atlanta’s iconic Peachtree Street to mourn the death of the protester, a non-binary who went by the name Tortuguita and used their pronouns.

Tortuguita was killed Wednesday when authorities cleared a small group of protesters from the site of a planned public safety training center in the Atlanta area that activists have dubbed “Cobb City.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Tortuguita was killed by officers after shooting and wounding a soldier, but activists have questioned the officials’ version of events, calling it a “murder” and calling for an independent investigation.

According to the GBI, the incident was not recorded on body cameras. Onriday, the office said it had determined that the soldier was hit in the stomach by a bullet from a gun Tortuguita had.

Word of Saturday’s protest spread widely on social media and among left-wing activists, with some posts saying, “Police killed protester. Stand up. Stand up.”

Authorities made six arrests Saturday and seized explosive devices after protesters destroyed property along Peachtree Street, a corridor of hotels and restaurants, Atlanta Police Chief Darren Scherbaum said during a news conference. He said that the authorities stopped the violence in two buildings, and no citizens or law enforcement officers were injured.

“We can tell now, early in this investigation, that it wasn’t the focus tonight just of blowing out the windows of three buildings and setting a police car on fire,” Scherbaum said. “The intent is to continue to cause harm, and that hasn’t happened.”

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp decried the violence and thanked the responding officers.

“Violence and unlawful destruction of property is not an act of protest,” the Republican governor wrote on Twitter. “These are crimes that will not be tolerated in Georgia and will be fully prosecuted.”

The first hour of the demonstration was peaceful as a few activists shared their memories of Tortuguita, describing them as a very loving and caring member of the “Stop Cop City” community. Speakers said Tortugita underwent a 20-hour medical course in order to serve as a doctor for fellow “forest advocates” who found their home in the woods of DeKalb County just outside the Atlanta city limits.

Opponents of the training center have been demonstrating for more than a year by building platforms in the surrounding trees and camping on the site.

They say the $90 million project, which will be built by the Atlanta Policeoundation, involves cutting down so many trees that it would be bad for the environment. They also oppose spending too much money on a facility they say will be used to practice “urban warfare”.

About 25 sites were located and removed in a raid Wednesday, the GBI said, and mortar-style fireworks, edged weapons, pellet guns, gas masks and a blasting flare were found.

The GBI said seven people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism and criminal trespass, with other charges pending. Their ages range from 20 to 34, and none of them are residents of Georgia.