ATLANTA — What started as a peaceful protest at Underground Atlanta on Saturday evening apparently turned violent when marchers headed downtown, with a police car afire and business windows broken.

At a news conference Saturday night, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said they arrested six people who “chose to take the First Amendment as a shield of illegal activity, and we stopped the protesters that were acting illegally.”

Earlier in the night, Atlanta police told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a group of people were damaging property at several locations along Peachtree Street. At the news conference, Schierbaum said no one was injured, and that three buildings and one police car were damaged.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an attorney to tell you that breaking windows and setting fires is not protests. That is terrorism,” Schierbaum said. “And they will be charged accordingly.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens thanked public safety officials for working together to restore order “in a swift manner.” He said at the news conference that authorities confiscated explosives from some of the arrested demonstrators.

“The city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Department will not tolerate this, and we continue to protect the right to peacefully protest. We will not tolerate violence or property destruction,” Dickens said. “My message is simple to those who seek to continue this type of criminal behavior: We will find you and we will arrest you and you will be held accountable.”

MARTA announced during the time of the violence that trains were not servicing Peachtree Center Station. Meanwhile, one of the buildings damaged was the Atlanta Police Foundation, which had its glass doors smashed open with rocks. The APF declined to comment.

The property damage in downtown Atlanta occurred about an hour after dozens of protesters filled a portion of an Underground Atlanta plaza to protest against the city’s plans to build a training center for police and firefighters within several acres of forested land in DeKalb County.

The event also was held to remember 26-year-old activist Manuel Teran, who was fatally shot by a state trooper at the project’s site this past week.

During the event, the protesters chanted “no justice, no peace, no killer police,” and “stop cop city,” referring to the name that activists have given to the planned training site. They also chanted “stop police terror,” “free the activists” and “drop the charges,” referring to how at least seven other people have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism in connection with Wednesday’s law enforcement operation in the southern DeKalb woods.

One person present unsuccessfully tried to start a chant of “if they build it, we will burn it.”

Teran was killed during Wednesday’s police sweep in what the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said was an exchange of gunfire with police that wounded a state trooper. The trooper, whose name has not been released, was taken to a local hospital for surgery and is reported to be in stable condition. The GBI also said there was not bodycam footage of the incident.

But several unnamed speakers at Saturday’s protest spoke of Teran as a freedom fighter who hugged everyone amid their efforts to be kind and giving to the community. The speakers accused the media and the police of distorting what happened and hiding the shooting footage.

The police foundation is leasing the land where the city is building the training center. The nonprofit is also spearheading the $90 million project, for which the AFP is contributing two-thirds of the construction funds.

Several protesters at Saturday’s event at Underground Atlanta told the AJC that the city is misusing that money.

“We have a bunch of homeless people here in Atlanta,” said 24-year-old resident Ronald Conde. “There’s big disparity in income and housing, so why are we putting all our time and effort and money into a facility that is there to provide training for police to basically raid homes?”

In addition to seeking the end of the project, the protesters at the afternoon event are calling for an independent probe into Teran’s death. They also want the city to defund the APD.

On Saturday night, amid the destruction downtown, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted that the media should not label the damage as a protest.

“Peaceful protestors use words. Rioters smash windows, set police cars on fire & shoot law enforcement officers,” Carr tweeted. “Stop calling these people protesters.”

The governor also went on social media to speak out.

“Violence and unlawful destruction of property are not acts of protest,” Gov. Brian Kemp said. “They are crimes that will not be tolerated in Georgia and will be prosecuted fully.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff released a statement Saturday night. The Georgia Democrat said, “Peaceful protest is a sacred Constitutional right but violence is unacceptable, cannot be permitted or tolerated, and must cease immediately.”

—A note of disclosure

The James M. Cox Foundation, the charitable arm of Cox Enterprises which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has contributed to the training center fundraising campaign. It is among several Atlanta-based foundations that have contributed.

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