Political repression is on the rise as the state finds new ways to criminalize dissent and collective action.

by Adam Federman, In These Times

Amin Chaoui had been in Atlanta less than 24 hours when things took an unexpected turn. Chaoui, then 31, drove down from Richmond, Va., to attend a March 2023 music festival organized by activists trying to stop the construction of the police training facility known as Cop City. The sprawling compound in one of Atlanta’s largest urban parks would require clearing at least 85 acres of partly forested land that abuts a predominantly Black neighborhood in DeKalb County. It faced growing opposition from racial and environmental justice advocates, including an occupation of the forest that began in November 2021.

Chaoui was loosely familiar with Cop City — he’d seen flyers around Richmond — but hadn’t been involved in the campaign. He’d also never been to Atlanta, and was especially drawn to the music. There was also an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the festival that appealed to Chaoui, who had started a recovery program five months prior. ​I honestly just thought I was going to spend a few days in the forest and then go home,” Chaoui said.

A black woman stands in front of a line of armed police at a protest against the killing of George Floyd.

But before the hour-long AA meeting ended his first night there, Chaoui noticed heavily armed police officers encircling the venue. About a half-mile away, a group of protesters had staged an impromptu march through the development site, setting fire to some of the construction equipment. As the sun began to set, plumes of smoke rose above the forest, providing the only pretext law enforcement needed to round up anyone in attendance. As Chaoui tried to leave, he and about 50 other people were corralled and handcuffed in a parking lot. By the end of the night, 23 of them were thrown in the DeKalb County jail.

When Chaoui was released 18 days later, he faced a very different future: He’d been charged with domestic terrorism, which, in Georgia, is punishable by up to 35 years in prison.

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