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Drop the Charges, Defend the Movement, #StopCopCity 

The Left must take up a mass campaign to defend activists facing state repression that threatens the democratic and civil rights of protesters everywhere.

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Photo: Steve Eberhardt/ZUMA Press Wire

Last week, Georgia’s Republican Attorney General (AG) Christopher Carr opened up a dangerous attack on the civil rights of protesters speaking out against the construction of an unpopular training facility for police, and struggling against police brutality.

AG Carr named 61 activists in a state RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) charge for their participation in a national movement to prevent the construction “Cop City” — a proposed $90 million training ground that would dismantle much of the South River Forest for police to learn new tactics to terrorize Black, Brown, and working-class communities. It’s outrageous that protesters are getting charged with the same law that Donald Trump and his supporters are for conspiring to steal the elections, or mafia organizations who have committed murder. 

In the face of these undemocratic, fabricated, and politically motivated charges, social movement activists, labor activists, and the Left must respond with a strong showing of solidarity and a massive campaign to drop the charges against the activists and to stop Cop City. 

Setting a Dangerous Precedent Against Political Dissent 

The indictment attacks basic political activity by citing terms like collectivism, mutual aid, and social solidarity and the act of flyering, collecting art supplies, and providing emotional support as things used by the “criminal enterprise” fighting to Stop Cop City. Under these definitions, this article could even be cited as criminal activity.

This isn’t the first time RICO charges have been used against activists and movements. According to the Center for Constitutional Reforms, a Dakota Access Pipeline protest leader was threatened with RICO, and Greenpeace was sued by the pipeline owner for violating RICO laws. Neither attempt was successful. 

Even the labor movement has faced RICO charges: SEIU, UFCW, and UNITE HERE have been charged for collecting dues and attempting to organize workers. This is why the labor movement must join the campaign to prevent the state from using these authoritarian tactics to criminalize the activity of the working class and oppressed.

Attacking the Legacy of the George Floyd Movement

Although Cop City was announced in 2021, the RICO indictments cite the date of George Floyd’s murder as the start of the alleged conspiracy. This shows that AG Carr wants to put the whole Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement on trial and lean into the racist lies and antisemitic conspiracy theories that seek to reduce the righteous anger of millions of people against police brutality into the nefarious actions of “antifa” and rich liberals like George Soros.

From his press conference, it is clear that AG Carr wants to put the ideology of the Left on trial as much as the protesters themselves. He cited opposition to police, capitalism, and the state as grounds for the RICO charges. This exposes the political character of the indictment, which are akin to the anti-communist and anti-dissent witch hunts of the McCarthy era. Just like the Red Scare tactics of the past, AG Carr hopes to use the indictment to beat back radical dissent and ideas popularized by the mass rebellion against the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

A Bipartisan Attack on the Movement

While the Democratic Party does not have a direct role in the recent RICO charges, they have been complicit in other attacks against the movement to Stop Cop City, and have so far failed to make strong denouncements against the charges. This is a far cry from their previous attempts to portray themselves as a party that cared about civil rights and BLM.

Atlanta’s Democratic mayor Andre Dickens has been an ardent defender of Cop City, singing its praises whenever he gets a chance. He has attempted to use undemocratic means to prevent the movement from being able to collect signatures from Atlanta residents that would allow them to vote on whether or not Cop City would be built. Now, he and other Atlanta officials refuse to verify the petition signatures collected.

Sarah Jones, a senior writer for Intelligencer, recently wrote that the RICO charges “ought to provoke real introspection among the liberals in particular….liberal politicians are working alongside conservatives to crack down on activists and militarize the police.” An example of this can be found in Detroit, where Democratic mayor Mike Duggan aggressively prosecuted protesters, even suing them for “civil conspiracy”. Other examples include Democratic New York Mayor Eric Adams and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass arguing for more police funding against the demand to defund and abolish the police, or the Biden administration itself increasing the amount of money police departments across the country receives. 

We Need a Campaign to Drop the Charges

The Left must help build and participate in a broad campaign to get the RICO charges dropped and expose the lies, hypocrisy, and undemocratic nature of the charges. The campaign has to expose the fact that activists are likely not to receive bond and will have to languish in jail for months until a new court date is set. Notably, none of the people facing indictments for trying to steal or overturn the 2020 elections are facing these kinds of conditions. We have to expose the fact that activists will likely be sent to Fulton County Jail, where six people have died in custody in the last two months alone. 

The campaign has to expose the inhumane conditions placed on activists facing RICO charges, like the one that prohibits them from talking to each other, which for many means disconnecting them from friends and support systems they rely on. The campaign also has to make clear the bogus nature of the indictment and how they lack evidence to prove their claims, like the one claiming that land defender Tortuguita had a gun or shot at police.

Such a broad campaign must be carried out without compromising on important political principles like the need for class independence from the Democrats and Republicans, or the need for institutions of self-organization that are not run by NGO bureaucrats and misleaders. We have to make it clear that to win, we cannot rely on the court process alone, hoping that maybe this time, there will be justice. These charges must be fought in the streets, at our workplaces, and in our schools.

Our organizations can concretely prove ourselves to be the political alternative people are searching for that also takes democratic struggles seriously. So, let’s take up the campaign to fight the charges against Stop Cop City activists with revolutionary enthusiasm and vigor! 

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