Credit: Atlanta Police
Atlanta Police link recent ‘Cop City’ arson attacks to fire at Westside youth center
The Atlanta Police Department said last year’s fire at a Westside youth center is linked to a recent spate of arson attacks by opponents of the city’s planned public safety training center, dubbed “Cop City.”
Chief Darin Schierbaum said at an Aug. 1 press conference the fire set in May 2022 at the At-Promise Center on Cameron Madison Alexander Boulevard was likely committed by the same group of people responsible for the arson attacks at two police facilities over this year’s Fourth of July weekend. Equipment belonging to a private contractor was also set on fire over the holiday weekend.
“We have reason to believe, based on statements of responsibility made by groups, also investigative information that we currently hold, that the same group is likely responsible for the various arson attacks that occurred here in the city,” Schierbaum said.
“The intent of every one of these attacks was destruction beyond what occurred,” he said. “That has been the attempt every single time in an effort to create fear around the training center’s construction.”
The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in the arson attacks is now $50,000, Schierbaum said. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is adding another $10,000.
“We know there are individuals out there that have information that is pivotal to this case,” Schierbaum said. “And I want to stress this: If this is not stopped they are likely to strike again.
“What is next?” the chief asked. “Where will they go next to take this arson tool across our city? This group needs to be stopped. They need to be identified and they need to be held accountable.”
Last month, Mayor Andre Dickens, Chief Schierbaum and Fire Chief Rod Smith denounced “anarchists” they said targeted and burned eight police motorcycles parked at the APD’s former academy on South Industrial Parkway. They also blamed the group for trying to set fires and damaging police cars parked on Memorial Drive at the department’s Atlanta BeltLine precinct.
Why The At-Promise Center was targeted last year was not explained at the press conference. But the Atlanta Police Foundation, the nonprofit agency developing the $90 million training center, has built At-Promise Centers in the city as part of its initiative to reduce youth crime, according to its website.
A Vote to Stop Cop City coalition is seeking to let Atlanta residents vote on the fate of the public safety training. Activists also continue to protest the training center they say will further militarize police and destroy valuable South River Forest land. Many have been arrested and face serious domestic terrorism charges.
City and state officials say the public safety training center is needed to train officers and firefighters. Officials have said the facility would also be used to recruit more APD officers to fill its ranks of roughly 2,000 people.
The fight between supporters and opponents of the facility became a national and international issue in January when Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, a forest defender camping near the training center site, was shot and killed by state troopers. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Teran shot first.
Schierbaum warned opponents of the training center that violence such as the recent arson attacks will not be tolerated in the city and criminals will be prosecuted.
“We believe them when they say, ‘You build it, we will burn it,'” he said. “We’re seeing fire already being used across the board to be able to stop this project.
“I want to be very clear; this is a very small group using fear and intimidation and criminal acts to stop an investment in the safety of our city,” he said. “I am worried about someone being hurt or killed if this group isn’t stopped.”
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Rough Draft Atlanta.