How Atlanta’s ‘Cop City’ Became the Center of Green Protests — and Claims of Deadly Police Brutality

The site of a proposed new police training center in a wooded area outside of Atlanta has become the focal point of the US environmental movement in recent weeks amid a series of clashes between protesters and police.

The latest clash between protesters and police at the site occurred on March 5, when Atlanta police arrested 35 people they say set a construction vehicle on fire and threw stones and bricks at officers as part of what police said was a ” a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers”.

Activists dispute that story, with Kamau Franklin telling CNN that the law enforcement response “further demonstrates the policy of police aggression and the tactical response of overpolicing.”

At least 23 people are charged with domestic terrorism over the incident.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said DeKalb County prosecutors and the Georgia Attorney General’s Office are working together to bring charges against the protesters arrested Sunday. The arrests came at the start of a week of mass mobilization against the project, with organizers calling on people to come to Georgia and defend the forest.

Part of the appeal to supporters is also to honor the life of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, an activist who was shot and killed during a Georgia Bureau of Investigation operation at the protest site. Known as Tortuguita or Little Tortoise, Terán’s murder was the first documented killing of an environmentalist by U.S. law enforcement.

The project has left a climate movement increasingly willing to use direct action to try to halt major construction projects, in the face of a state apparatus that seems increasingly willing to use violence against protesters to facilitate those projects.

What is Cop City?

Local power brokers started talking about the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center way back in 2017.

Plans call for the project to bulldoze at least 85 acres of the South River Forest, or Weelaunee Forest as it is known to the native Muscogee (Creek) people, outside the city limits to make way for a police firing range, Blackhawk helicopter landing path, and a fully simulated city to practice large-scale operations.

Most of the funding will come from the private Atlanta Police Foundation, which counts as donors and board members representing major corporations such as Amazon, Chick-fil-A and Delta Airlines with operations in the city.

The Atlanta City Council has approved plans to lease a plot of land to the Atlanta Police Foundation so it can build a state-of-the-art police and fire training center, a project critics are calling “Cop City.”

Supporters, including former mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the editorial pages of Atlanta’s top newspapers, such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution, designed the center as a solution to a “crime wave” in the city and a one-time investment in public safety. They have also argued that it is a way for beleaguered Atlanta police to “boost morale” and preservation, which have been in short supply following the 2020 race justice protests and scandals such as the APD’s killing of Rayshard Brooks, which the back was shot. by police officers less than three weeks after George Floyd was killed.

However, to many community members, the project seemed to be rammed by the city government without their vote on public safety solutions ever mattering.

By the time plans for the project were publicized in the summer of 2021, a wide range of community groups, from civil rights activists to neighborhood organizations, opposed Cop City, seeing them as local officials initiating another undesirable project. class, black area where there are already six landfills, five prisons and two demolished public housing sites. Thanks to a network of security cameras funded by the Atlanta Police Foundation, Atlanta is already one of the most heavily guarded places in the world. Cop City marked another increase in the city’s police footprint.

“They were organizations in a lot of different areas,” local organizer Micah Herskind told me The independent. “Anti-gentrification. Anti-police violence. Abolitionists. And there were people who just cared about at the level of ordinary neighborhood associations. We don’t want this huge noisy poisonous thing near our house. There were toddlers who organized marches.”

The potential consequences of Cop City go far beyond a lack of public input and another massive investment in the police state. The broad, leaderless coalition of individuals and communities opposed to the project say the $90 million training center is historically abusive and also harmful to the environment.

The forest where the project is being built, which is outside the Atlanta city limits, used to be home to the Muscogee (Creek) people before they were forcibly displaced, and was then the site of a prison ranch. The training center could also lead to the destruction of 85 hectares or more of greenery in a city where forests are rapidly declining.

According to Dr. Jacqueline Echols of the South River Watershed Alliance, the forest where the training center is being built is known as the “fourth lung of Atlanta” and was once described in a city plan as the site of a future conservation park. More development would further pollute nearby Entrenchment Creek, one of the city’s major waterways, which already exceeds legal pollution limits.

Environmentalists say the Cop City project will destroy one of the few remaining green spaces in the Atlanta area and pollute the waterways in a largely black working-class community.

What is the wider impact?

The stakes of the project and the fight to stop it in the Atlanta area are clear. But far beyond Atlanta, the fight against Cop City resonates as a symbol of the battle likely to come in the fight to stop climate change – an interlinked fight against environmental degradation, racism, colonialism and capitalism.

It may also come to represent turning points in the tactics the climate movement is willing to use and the risks they take in pursuing its goals. In late January, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency for protests, allowing him to deploy the National Guard to quell the protests and arrest people.

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