National Lawyers Guild Atlanta, NLG International Committee and NLG National hosted a discussion on Monday, September 25: “Understanding the RICO Indictments Against Stop Cop City Activists.” Panelists and moderators were Stanley Cohen, Devin Franklin, Mo Meltzer-Cohen, Don Samuel and Azadeh Shahshahani, and the webinar was hosted by Suzanne Adely, Susi Durán and Sarina Larson.
Georgia’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) law, modeled on the federal statute designed to attack mob bosses, has been in the news a lot, ever since Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis used Georgia’s law to charge former President Donald Trump and his associates with attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election. And with the news has come the inevitable hand-wringing about whether the RICO charges against Trump were a good idea. CNN (8/26/23) published an op-ed questioning whether the indictments were too broad, saying, “Casting a wide net can also raise serious First Amendment issues.”
For the past two years, calls to “stop Cop City” and “defend the Atlanta forest” have shaken the political and corporate establishment of Georgia’s state capital. Although Atlanta City Council has approved a lease and funding for a massive Public Safety Training Center in the city’s Weelaunee Forest, the sustained, popular #StopCopCity movement has effectively halted its construction. In response, local and state government have used a variety of tactics to move things forward — including police raids (which led to the killing of protester Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán), domestic terrorism charges against activists and a highly-controversial “signature verification process” that could undermine a proposed referendum.
More than five dozen activists were indicted on RICO charges last week over the ongoing efforts to halt construction of the city of Atlanta’s planned public safety training center in DeKalb County. The sweeping indictment, handed up last Tuesday in Fulton County, is being prosecuted by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office. A total of 61 protestors have been charged with violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act. Some face additional charges of domestic terrorism and money laundering. Most are not from Georgia.