By Julia Conley / Common Dreams
Rights advocates warned Wednesday that the arrests of three board members of an Atlanta-based bail fund could mark the beginning of a new era in the United States’ treatment of peaceful protesters—one in which both demonstrators and those who support them are targeted by law enforcement.
Under the direction of the Republican state attorney general, Christopher Carr, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Atlanta Police Department carried out the arrests of Marlon Scott Kautz, Savannah Patterson, and Adele Maclean of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund (ASF).
The group offers financial support to people who have been arrested for protesting, including the dozens of people who have been detained for resisting the development of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, also known by critics as Cop City—a $90 million police training facilitythat would take up 85 acres of publicly-owned forest.
The three board members were charged with money laundering and charity fraud, leading state Rep. Saira Draper (D-90) to question the state’s use of SWAT teams and helicopters to conduct the raid in a residential neighborhood.
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“Peaceful protest is as American as apple pie,” said Draper. “Using heavy handed tactics to suppress peaceful protest is shameful.”
Writer and historian William Horne denounced the arrests as “the behavior of a fascist police state.”
Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, told The Intercept on Wednesday that the ASF is “the first bail fund to be attacked in this way.” The funds have been used for at least a century to pool together communities’ financial resources to help bail people, including civil rights protesters, out of jail.
“There is absolutely not a scintilla of fact or evidence that anything illegal has ever transpired with regard to Atlanta fundraising for bail support,” Regan said.
She added in a press statement that “bailing out protestors who exercise their constitutionally protected rights is simply not a crime.”
“In fact, it is a historically grounded tradition in the very same social and political movements that the city of Atlanta prides itself on,” she said. “Someone had to bail out civil rights activists in the 60’s—I think we can all agree that community support isn’t a crime.”
Plans for Cop City garnered national attention earlier this year after Georgia state troopers killed a forest defender named Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, also known as Tortuguita, shooting him nearly 60 times.
Since Tortuguita’s killing, nearly 30 people have been charged with domestic terrorism for allegedlydamaging property and trespassing while protesting Cop City.
More than 40 people in all are facing domestic terrorism charges, and three people charged with felonies have been placed in solitary confinement.
Civil rights attorney Alec Karakatsanis called the use of a “heavily militarized” police force to arrest three campaigners for alleged financial crimes “a bone-chilling development” that could have implications for the future of protesting in the United States.
Karakatsanis added that “everyone should be scared by” a statement made by Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who said arrests were “a reminder that we will track down every member of a criminal organization, from violent foot soldiers to uncaring leaders.”
“When three community organizers who help to run a bail fund are arrested with an entire SWAT team on clearly bogus financial charges, it signals that not only is it illegal to protest, it’s also illegal to try and support people who have been criminalized for protesting,” Hannah Riley, a writer and organizer, toldHuffPost. “If bail funds aren’t safe, what’s next?”
State Rep. Ruwa Romman (D-97) noted that the targeting of the ASF comes as people in the U.S. are increasingly relying on mutual aid to access reproductive care.
“Are we going to see attacks on abortion funds,” she said to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “on bail funds, other types of funds that provide resources for those attempting to navigate our increasingly expensive and complicated legal system?”
Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.