The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Dec. 8, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Students and community members protest Georgia RICO charges, 'Cop City' facility

Stop Cop City members lined up to protest RICO charges at the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023.

As protestors reached the Peace and Justice Plaza on Sunday afternoon, their voices rang out over Franklin Street.

Holding signs that read “Stop Cop City" and other messages, they chanted phrases like “Bogus charges, bogus bans” and “Brick by brick, wall by wall, say bye to the prisons and free them all.”

The group included UNC students and community members who had gathered at the Bell Tower earlier that afternoon to protest the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, commonly known as “Cop City,” and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The center is a proposed police and fire services training facility in Atlanta that has garnered national attention. The facility is planned to occupy over 85 acres of the Weelaunee Forest and will cost approximately $90 million.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline system that will span from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia — amounting to approximately 303 miles.

Sunday's event, referred to as “Forest Fest,” aimed to connect the UNC community to the topics of the training center and the pipeline. UNC sophomore Jess Foday said the event also aimed to celebrate concepts of reciprocity and solidarity.

“People coming together to see that there are others that envision a more liberated and autonomous world, in the same way or in different ways than they do, is really powerful and is part of what we are trying to achieve,” Foday said.

Protestors raised concerns about the projects, including how the training center in Atlanta might lead to the militarization of police forces nationwide.

“The nature that is keeping us safe is being replaced by hyper-militarized police that are not [there] to keep us safe,” sophomore Ariel Halperin, who protested at the event, said.

Graduate student Wylie Thornquist voiced concerns about police departments — which he said already have “huge issues with accountability and brutality" — training at the facility.

“If this thing is built in Atlanta, it doesn't stay in Atlanta,” Thornquist said.

Foday said the construction of the training facility raises concerns for marginalized individuals, as it is situated in a predominantly Black area. They said increased police presence in predominantly Black areas has historically led to levels of violence with the ability to “rip apart communities and tear people away from their families.”

In early September, over 60 people were indicted on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) charges — including UNC law student Jamie Marsicano — the subject of a “Free Jamie, Free Them All” sign at the protest.

Marsicano was barred from the University earlier this year after being charged with domestic terrorism in connection to a movement opposing the construction of the new police training facility. Marsicano was arrested on that charge during an outdoor concert affiliated with the movement.

Sunday's event hosted guest speakers, including a representative from 7 Directions of Service, an Indigenous-led environmental group, and the National Lawyers Guild, where Marsicano formerly served as president of the UNC chapter. There were also performances from local DJs.

“Given the fact that so many of the people that are now facing RICO charges in Atlanta were also arrested at a music event, we thought that it would be fitting to have music be what brought people together today,” Thornquist said.

At the event, tables offered information on the training facility and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, in addition to local land defense movements and places to donate. There were also tables with no-cost literature, clothing and food.

Halperin said they hoped to create a space where these items could be enjoyed as gifts to be shared within the community rather than material objects to be consumed.

A march from the Bell Tower to the Peace and Justice Plaza took place after the end of the festival in a demonstration against the RICO charges. Halperin said they encouraged people to read the indictment of protestors fighting against the training center and to get involved with the movement.

“If you want to get involved in organizing, I think it's really important to specifically get involved with Indigenous and Black organizers who are already organizing and amplify the work that they’re already doing,” Halperin said.

@dailytarheel |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.