Freelance journalist Carlos Berríos Polanco was tear-gassed and pushed by police while documenting a demonstration against the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center on Nov. 13, 2023.
Berríos Polanco told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that approximately 500 protesters had gathered in Gresham Park for a “Block Cop City” protest march to the construction site for the center in a forest southeast of Atlanta.
As the marchers moved onto Constitution Road, they were met by approximately 70 law enforcement officers and dozens of police vehicles, Berríos Polanco said. When officers launched the first tear gas canister, it landed at the feet of a group of at least 30 journalists — including Berríos Polanco — who were standing ahead of the march.
“I think it was purposefully sent toward this group of journalists,” he told the Tracker.
Berríos Polanco said that the group was divided amid the resulting chaos, and he and approximately 10 other journalists were separated from the march. When they attempted to return, he said that DeKalb County Police and Georgia State Patrol officers stopped them under threat of arrest, stating that it was an “active crime scene.”
“It was a very funny example of police just flying by the seat of their pants,” Berríos Polanco said. “One Georgia State Patrol officer told us to keep moving back while another one told us to keep moving forward. And at the exact same time, one had their hand aimed down the road and one had their hand aimed up the road.”
As he attempted to comply with the orders, Berríos Polanco said that an officer placed a hand on his backpack and pushed him in an apparent attempt to make him move faster. Berríos said that he and the other journalists were eventually allowed to move back toward the march and protesters ultimately returned to Gresham Park.
Berríos Polanco told the Tracker he believes the incident was emblematic of how law enforcement officers have treated the journalists covering protests against the training center as though they were themselves activists.
“Even mainstream media outlets were shuffled off,” Berríos Polanco said. “Even Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of the biggest outlets here, was not allowed to return to the march.”
The DeKalb County Police Department acknowledged the Tracker’s request for comment via email, but did not provide a response. The Georgia Patrol did not respond to requests for comment.