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JP activist among those arrested at ‘Cop City’

Isaiah Thompson
JP activist among those arrested at ‘Cop City’
Demonstrators on Federal Street protest Bank of America’s investment in the controversial Cop City project in Atlanta. PHOTO: ISAIAH THOMPSON

A Jamaica Plain man was among some two dozen people arrested March 5 amid demonstrations against the controversial “Cop City” project in Atlanta, Georgia. The proposed project, backed by the Atlanta Police Foundation and the City of Atlanta, would build a sprawling police training facility on a forested area in a predominantly Black and brown community just outside of the city.

Alex Papali, 48, told the Banner he was among 23 individuals arrested and charged with domestic terrorism in an apparent sweep of the protest area by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. At least two other Massachusetts residents were arrested and similarly charged on the same day.

Protests over the proposed facility have been ongoing since last year but have grown in recent weeks, with hundreds of demonstrators gathering to occupy the site. On March 5, the day of Papali’s and others’ arrests, a construction vehicle on the site was set on fire, according to Atlanta police. According to news reports, police arrested individuals near the scene of the fire, as well as individuals participating in a nearby music festival hosted by supporters of the “Stop Cop City” movement. 

Papali, who identified himself as a local activist and organizer for various causes, said he had become concerned after hearing of the planned facility and of widespread protests against it.

“Folks had been sending out urgent calls for support” in opposing the facility’s construction “in the middle of a working-class Black community that doesn’t want it,” Papali said.

Papali described the mass arrest, and the weighty domestic terrorism charge he and others now face, as “arbitrary.”

“It was shocking how many people were being picked up and charged with this one charge,” he said.

Papali spent three weeks in DeKalb County jail before being released on bail Thursday night. He returned to Boston on Saturday, he said, and has yet to learn of any next court dates.

He credits support from friends and activists around the country for his and others’ release — though others arrested amid similar protests remain in jail, he said.

“From inside, we found there was a huge amount of support from our friends, but also just a broad nationwide network of people who are increasingly concerned with what’s happening down there,” said Papali. “I was very conscious about how privileged I am to have this kind of support compared to everyone else I encountered inside.”

On Thursday, a group of local activists gathered in front of the Bank of America headquarters in downtown Boston in support of those arrested.

Maria Christina Blanco, one of a group of Greater Boston residents who have organized around the issue, said, “We felt like we needed to respond … What’s happening in Atlanta … it’s going to affect all of us who want to exercise our First Amendment rights.” 

Blanco said the site of the protest, in front of Bank of America, was intentional. Bank of America is one of several corporations that have supported the Atlanta Police Foundation, which has raised some $60 million toward the project, and which leases the Georgia land on which the new training facility would be built.

These corporations that are right here in our backyard, are doing business in our communities,” Blanco said. “They shouldn’t just be able to go about their business in peace when they’re enabling the Atlanta Police Foundation to steamroll the community process in Atlanta and to create all this inequality and repression.”

Alex Papali, Cop City