The Fight for Justice: Arrests of Bail Fund Organizers Threaten Free Speech in Georgia

In a disheartening turn of events, three prominent figures behind the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a bail aid organization for protestors against Cop City, have been apprehended by Georgia law enforcement. This move has drawn considerable attention and outcry, as it appears to be an intimidation tactic aimed at those fighting against police militarization.

The Atlanta police descended upon the residences of the group’s CEO, chief financial officer, and secretary, arresting them under charges of money laundering and charity fraud, as per the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). This move, seen as an attempt to squash the Stop Cop City movement, has ignited fury amongst activists who have been witnessing an intensification of charges against participants of the protest.

Micah Herskind, an Atlanta organizer, expressed profound concern over this development. He expressed his belief that not only are the rights of protesters being undermined but the defenders of the arrested are also being targeted. He expressed the growing concern among activists that the right to protest, a cornerstone of the First Amendment, seems to be vanishing in Atlanta.

Even though the charges have just been made, Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp has prematurely treated the arrested organizers as guilty. He voiced pride in apprehending the “criminals” who he accuses of “facilitating and encouraging domestic terrorism,” referring to terrorism charges filed against Cop City protestors.

The controversy centers on Atlanta’s plans to build an 85-acre police militarization compound, Cop City, in a local forest area. The project, supported by both Republicans and Democratic Mayor Andre Dickens, is estimated to cost $90 million. Activists argue that such a compound will escalate police brutality while causing significant environmental damage.

In response to the arrests, the Defend the Atlanta Forest/Stop Cop City movement suggested that the Atlanta Solidarity Fund’s role in lawsuits against the Atlanta Police Department could be a reason for the retaliation. The group has been instrumental in challenging the police over the arrest of a journalist and other protestors in the movement.

Activists also believe that the GBI’s statement and Kemp’s remarks indicate a move towards applying Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges against the bail fund. They claim that the state seems to be constructing a “flimsy narrative” that portrays the group as a criminal organization. Thus far, more than 40 activists have been slapped with domestic terrorism charges for protesting the compound.

The Atlanta Solidarity Fund has been a beacon of hope, offering monetary aid for activists facing steep bail amounts. According to one of the recently arrested organizers, some bail amounts have reached upwards of $300,000.

Activist Kamau Franklin of Community Movement Builders condemns these actions as targeting by the police and state. He connects the role of bail funds to the broader history of the civil rights and labor movements, vowing to continue the fight against Cop City and political arrests.

There’s a deep sense of disbelief amongst activists who contend that the charges brought against anti-Cop City protesters are baseless. They argue that law enforcement is creating fraudulent narratives to rationalize the arrests.

Fueling these suspicions is the misleading account of police about the tragic killing of Manuel Paez TerĂ¡n, known as Tortuguita. While law enforcement claimed that Tortuguita initiated the shooting, an autopsy from DeKalb County found no gunpowder residue on Tortuguita’s hands, disputing the police narrative.

The arrest of the bail fund organizers in Georgia is a chilling reminder of the fight for justice, free speech, and the right to protest. The move has sparked even more determination among activists who refuse to be silenced in their struggle against Cop City.