Muddy clothes? ‘Cop City’ activists question police evidence

When police stormed an Atlanta-area music festival two days after a rainstorm, they were looking for suspects wearing muddy clothing.

Authorities moved in on the South River Music Festival on the evening of March 5, over an hour after more than 150 masked activists attacked a construction site about three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers) away, bashing equipment, torching a bulldozer and a police ATV, while throwing rocks and fireworks at retreating law enforcement officers, according to police surveillance footage.

Officials say many of the rioters trekked back to the festival ground, changing out of their all-black or camouflage attire in the muddy woods in order to blend in with the hundreds of peaceful concertgoers gathered to show their solidarity with the “Stop Cop City” movement — a decentralized campaign to halt the planned razing of an urban forest for the construction of a huge police and firefighter training center.

Civil liberties groups and defense attorneys say officials levied the disproportionate charges to scare off others from joining a movement that has only grown since January, when a 26-year-old known as Tortuguita was killed by a state trooper as authorities cleared activists from the South River Forest. Authorities said they fired in self-defense after the protester shot a trooper, but activists have questioned that narrative and called for an independent investigation.

Officials say the protesters have attacked officers, destroyed property and un