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Dozens of Harvard students and organizers rallied against a plan by Atlanta officials to create a police training center — which activists have dubbed “Cop City” — at a Thursday protest in Harvard Yard.
Attendees of the Harvard Yard rally gathered outside of the MBTA station in Harvard Square, holding signs before marching through Harvard Yard and participating in chants of “Stop Cop City” and “Defend the forest.” Organizers and activists then spoke to attendees on the steps of University Hall.
The plan for the training center in Atlanta has led to significant backlash and widespread protests over the last 18 months. Protesters have occupied areas of the forest where construction is set to take place.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Dec. 13 that Georgia authorities were attempting to clear the forest of protesters, with some activists alleging the use of tear gas and pepper balls. Clashes between police and protesters in the months since have led to dozens being charged with domestic terrorism for allegedly throwing rocks, bricks, fireworks, and Molotov cocktails at police.
Organizers of the Harvard rally said the protest was part of a national day of solidarity in support of the Defend the Atlanta Forest Movement.
On Jan. 18, Venezuelan environmental activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán was shot and killed by police officers after allegedly opening fire on police. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Paez Terán shot a Georgia State Patrol Officer before they were shot by police and died on the scene.
Activists in Harvard Yard held a moment of silence for Paez Terán, who they referred to by their nickname, “Tortuguita,” remembering them as a peaceful protester.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Georgia State Patrol, did not immediately respond to requests for comment following the protest.
Some rallygoers took issue with the charge of domestic terrorism against protesters.
“When the people who seek to defend us are labeled terrorists and criminalized and face decades in prison, it’s an assault on all of us,” Monty Neill, an organizer with environmental advocacy group Extinction Rebellion, said.
Uniformed Cambridge Police Department and Harvard University Police Department officers appeared to monitor the protest.
CPD spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick confirmed that Cambridge police officers were present due to the planned protest. HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano declined to comment, citing long-standing department policy.
Karen Choi ’25 said at the rally that the events in Georgia have left her “shaken and fearful.”
“Where’s the democracy and freedom of speech that America so often praises?” Choi asked. “Where’s the land of the free that America so often preaches?”
Despite these concerns, Choi called on attendees to remain optimistic.
“Let this be a reminder that we are not alone,” she said. “Put the hope in everything you do.”
—Staff writer Yusuf S. Mian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @yusuf_mian2.
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