Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaks during a press conference at City Hall Tower on Wednesday, February 1, 2023. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Wednesday morning, the Georgia State Senate passed a bill which empowers the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to identify, investigate, arrest and prosecute individuals that commit acts of terrorism. 

According to Senate Bill 11, the GBI will have the right to work independently and alongside law enforcement agencies, and request the assistance of other law enforcement agencies when investigating crimes that involve domestic, cyber, biological, chemical, and nuclear terrorism.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for final passage. 

But the proposed bill does not say whether the GBI can investigate members of a group that are not directly involved when other members commit violent acts.

Georgia’s terrorism law was codified in 2017 in the wake of the Dylann Roof shootings at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. However, in the wake of the shootings at the site of the future Atlanta Police Training Center on January 18th, twenty people were charged with terrorism. Also, six people were indicted with terrorism charges after allegedly damaging property in downtown Atlanta on January 21st. 

Moreover, these domestic terrorism arrest affidavits point to felony charges for allegedly damaging a nearby Atlanta Police Foundation building and setting fire to a police car. Also, one defendant is charged with carrying spray paint, a hammer, torch fuel, and a lighter as well as kicking and spitting on an officer as they were arrested. 

Currently, a person convicted of the offense of a terroristic threat in the State of Georgia will be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000.00 or serve between one or five years, or both penalties. 

Meanwhile  the activists opposing the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, dubbed “Cop City” by the dissenters, voiced wholesale rejection of the new agreement which included protesting the facility during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. The agreement calls for the preservation of parts of the South River Forest, which has been occupied for more than a year by protesters in tree encampments seeking to stop the building of the facility. The Sierra Club is still fully against the project, even though an agreement for the construction permit was in place and the project will go ahead. 

Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Dickens said the Public Safety Training Center is just another progression in the ability of the city’s first responders to have exceptional public safety delivered and commensurate training needed for the current officers and fire crews. 

“I listened to all those considerations on hours and hours of public comment and letters and meetings,” said Dickens. “And specifically, I think that when we presented more facts, they didn’t present more responses to those facts. So I would like for anybody that disagrees with it to look at the facts that we’ve laid out on the website and be able to see all of the benefits. But they never mentioned the word Fire Department to be able to constantly talk about police and then others that will talk about environmental concerns.”

Dickens has consistently framed the training facility as a needed response to the marches and protests that centered around racially-motivated over-policing and acts of police brutality in 2020. Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Georgia Governor Brian P. Kemp both supported the project. 

“This training facility will not only help boost morale, retention and recruitment of our public safety personnel, but will give us physical space to ensure that our officers and firefighters are receiving 21st century training, rooted in respect and regard for the communities they serve,” said Bottoms in a 2021 written statement. 

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...