Protesters target 'Cop City' contractor; federal judge weighing motion to halt construction

Opponents of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center dubbed "Cop City" march near the construction site on Monday, Nov. 13. Two days later on Wednesday, Nov. 15, several cement trucks belonging to a contractor with ties to the project were set on fire in Gwinnett County. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Several cement trucks owned by a contractor with ties to Atlanta’s controversial public safety training center were set on fire in Gwinnett County.

A group took responsibility for the fires in an online post titled “Make Contractors Afraid Again,” but the Gwinnett County Fire Department would not confirm those claims pending an investigation.

According to the department, the vehicles were found burning behind Ernst Concrete in Lawrenceville at around 2:40 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15.

“A walk-around of the incident confirmed that the fire had not extended to any structures,” it said. “Fire crews deployed multiple fire hoses to combat the flames. Lawrenceville police officers assisted fire operations by temporarily closing Seabord Industrial Drive. Firefighters brought the fire under control at 3:08 a.m.”

No injuries were reported. Georgia Arson Control Inc. is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest.

The Atlanta Police Department said it plans to comment on the incident in the coming days.

Earlier this week, hundreds of protesters from around the country collided with police during a demonstration against the project that they call “Cop City.”

City officials have said the 85-acre, $90 million facility is needed to improve de-escalation training and help recruit and retain more officers.

But, opponents, including environmentalists and abolitionists, say it will further militarize police and disproportionately impact the low-income, majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods surrounding the site.

Meanwhile, a federal judge is weighing whether to halt construction following allegations by the South River Watershed Alliance that it’s causing excessive levels of sediment to enter nearby Intrenchment Creek and degrading the quality of water for wildlife and the surrounding land.

Simon H. Bloom, an attorney for the private nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation which is funding a majority of the project, said that’s just not true at a hearing Wednesday.

He added that stopping construction would cause more harm to the public if the city’s police and firefighters don’t have a place to train and the incident in Gwinnett County as an example.

“They (cement trucks) were burned to a crisp,” Bloom said.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, also pointed out that the city and police foundation have been fully permitted by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to move forward with the development.

The courtroom was packed with supporters of the movement to “Stop Cop City.” Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum and members of the police foundation sat in the front row.

While Boulee did not make a ruling, activists fear construction could be too far in the next couple of months to make a difference.