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ATLANTA – Authorities arrested nearly two dozen people on domestic terrorism charges Sunday after violent protests broke out at the site of a proposed law enforcement training facility in Atlanta.

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The violence started around 5:30 p.m. during a music festival in the area where officials plan to build the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, according to police and WSB-TV. More than 100 protesters left the concert, changed into black clothing and went to the construction site, throwing large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police, WSB reported.

Video released by police showed people shooting fireworks toward officers. A construction vehicle was set on fire as dozens of people swarmed the area.

Police Chief Darren Schierbaum called the incident “a coordinated criminal attack against officers … followed by the destruction of equipment.” He characterized the confrontation as “criminal activity” and “not a protest.”

“When it’s a legitimate protest, you have the full protection of the Atlanta Police Department. This is not a protest. This is criminal activity,” he said. “When you throw commercial-grade fireworks; when you throw Molotov cocktails, large rocks, a number of objects at officers — your only intent is to harm, and the charges are going to show that.”

On 23 charged with domestic terrorism after violent night at Atlanta public safety training center site

Police arrested 23 people between the ages of 18 and about 48 on domestic terrorism charges. Police said a majority of the suspects were not from the Atlanta area. Among other locations, one person hailed from Canada while another was France, officials said.

“We continue to see a number of individuals not from Atlanta, Georgia, that are present tonight undertaking criminal activities to destabilize the construction of a fire and police training center,” Schierbaum said.

“What we saw was a significant escalation today, both in the level of violence that was brought forth and in the number of individuals that chose to undertake the violent attack. The adjustment of law enforcement will be just as equal to ensure that this doesn’t continue and that the citizens can peacefully protest, but criminal activity will not be tolerated in Atlanta nor tolerated in connection with this project.”

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Demonstrators have protested the planned police and fire training facility, dubbed by detractors as “Cop City,” for months amid fears that it will harm the environment and further the militarization of police, CNN reported. The protests have sometimes turned violent. During a demonstration held in January, environmental activist Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, who was known as “Tortuguita,” was shot to death by officers after authorities said he attacked them, according to The Associated Press. Some activists have disputed the account.

In a statement obtained by WSB, the group Defend the Atlanta Forest accused police of violating people’s civil rights on Sunday and reiterated opposition to the training facility project. Activist Kamau Franklin, director of the group Community Movement Builders, told CNN that Sunday’s arrests were “indiscriminate” and demonstrated “policies of police aggression and the tactical response of over-policing.” He highlighted the language used by police, who have called those arrested “violent agitators.”

“Calling those arrested ‘outside agitators,’ is meant to separate protesters and meant to criminalize and detach a movement from its homegrown origins,” he told CNN.

On Friend of protester killed by troopers at site of proposed police facility defends them

In January, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the planned 85-acre facility will be used for training in “vital areas like de-escalation techniques, mental health, community-oriented-policing, crisis intervention training as well as civil rights history education.”

“This training needs space, and that’s exactly what this training center is going to offer,” he said.

The proposed site was cleared decades ago and is currently dominated by brush, weeds, vines and softwood trees, the mayor said. He added that the other about 300 acres owned by the city will continue to be greenspace.