Atlanta is the center of growing protests against a planned 85-acre, $90 million police training facility to be built in the city-owned Weelaulee Forest. The site has been the source of heated opposition from protesters who believe the increased police presence may lead to potential police brutality. Over the past several weeks clashes have led to several arrests and the death of a protester.
“This center is being built to continue the over-policing of the Black community and to stomp out every press movement activity, which challenges police violence in particular,” Kamau Franklin, founder of Atlanta’s Community Movement Builders, Inc. said at a recent press briefing.
“This is a response to the uprisings of 2020 when George Floyd was killed, Breonna Taylor was killed, and Rayshard Brooks was killed. This is a response to that movement, and this is why we as organizers and activists have been opposed to Cop City since the introduction of the idea in 2021,” he added.
“We’ve been organizing street demonstrations, rallies, civil disobedience, and direct action. All of that has been part of our sort of repertoire, as organizers canvassing petition drives,” he said. “Calls to the city council on the night of their vote to lease the public forest to the Atlanta Police Foundation showed that 70 percent of Atlanta was opposed to Cop City. Yet the council and the mayor moved forward.”
In 2021 the City Council approved a lease agreement with the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) to build the planned facility, called Cop City by protesters. It includes a mock city to practice urban warfare, tear gas and explosives testing, dozens of shooting ranges, and a Black Hawk helicopter landing pad.
“Let’s be clear again. The Atlanta Police Foundation is a private entity. It is not a state entity. It’s not a part of the city government. It is a private entity. They will be in charge of training the public police department and police officers. Through the resources they get from private corporations, they’ll get city resources. But the majority of the resources will be from private corporations that will be funding training in Atlanta for their police,” said Mr. Franklin.
The Atlanta Police Foundation is a nonprofit organization that uses private money to support various policing efforts like funding citywide surveillance cameras and founding a police leadership institute. This new effort will make Cop City one of the largest police training facilities in the U.S. The $90 million financing of the project is a combination of $60 million from corporate sponsors and $30 million from city funds.
On March 5, over a thousand people attended a music festival in the Weelaunee Forest. Later, hundreds protested by marching deeper into the forest on the second day of the fifth Week of Action to protect the Weelaunee Forest and stop Cop City. Multiple police agencies dressed in militarized gear and armed with lethal weapons raided the festival, arrested dozens of concertgoers and reportedly threatened to shoot people in the park.
The Atlanta Solidarity Fund stated, “Indiscriminate police violence tonight against Stop Cop City festival-goers. Police seem to be lashing out at anyone present at the music festival. Music is not a crime; protest is not a crime. People lawfully exercising First Amendment rights cannot be held criminally liable for the actions of others.”
In a statement, the Atlanta Police Department described the event as “a group of violent agitators (that) used the cover of a peaceful protest of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers. They changed into black clothing and entered the construction area and began to throw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police officers.”
Twenty-three of the activists arrested in the raid face domestic terrorism charges for their participation in the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement. Two of those arrested were from Georgia, while police say others came from around the country, Canada and France, according to a list provided by the Atlanta Police Department, which said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would be prosecuting the charges.
“This is not a protest, this is criminal activity,” Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a recent news conference. “When you throw commercial-grade fireworks, when you throw Molotov cocktails, large rocks, a number of items at officers—your only intent is to harm.”
Protesters have been camping in the forest to stop construction since the agreement was signed. They argue that the construction of the police training facility will destroy what the Muscogee Creek people called the Weelaunee Forest also known as the South River Forest. The Muscogee were forcibly removed from the land by White settlers almost 200 years ago during the Trail of Tears. That land has been home to the Muscogee, a prison farm, a dumping ground—and what many thought was the cornerstone of an ambitious proposal to incorporate nature into Atlanta’s growth.
The protesters include students at the Atlanta University Center Consortium, home of Morehouse and Spelman Colleges as well as Clark Atlanta University. The students are concerned that the proposed site is a few miles from their campuses. Daxton Pettus, a sophomore at Morehouse, spoke at a recent protest.
“The seven police officers who engaged in the death of Tyre Nichols were trained,” he said. “We’ve been training police officers more and more, adding more training, but we still continue to see Black people murdered on television,” added Mr. Pettus.
Morehouse faculty signed an open letter that included the following, “Let us not delude ourselves: Cop City, if built, will result in more death and destruction at the hands of the police. Indeed, the Cop City project already has blood on its proverbial hands.”
“On January 18, 2023, as authorities conducted a sweep of the forest site, police shot and killed protester Manuel Terán, known among friends as “Tortuguita,” under very suspicious circumstances. Details of the tragedy remain sparse. As we mourn Tortuguita’s death, we call for an independent and transparent investigation of the incident.”
They explained that Georgia has the highest rates of correctional control of any state in the nation by far, twice as many as almost every state, at 5,143 per 100,000. Only New York City’s police foundation raised more money in 2020—and that was before Atlanta’s fundraising roughly tripled in 2021. Atlanta is the most surveilled city in America.
“It is the most economically unequal major city in America,” the faculty wrote. “Martin Luther King (a Morehouse alumni) said in 1967 that ‘a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’ Today, we say that a city that continues year after year to spend more money on policing and urban warfare than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
The Community Movement Builders explained, “While we were calling for divesting from the police, community control over public safety and investing in alternatives that enhance public safety, the Corporate establishment and political Black-mis-leadership of the City of Atlanta started planning the $90 million complex to demonstrate their commitment to police and to develop a tactical site that could stop mass movements and continue the harassment of Black poor and working-class communities.”
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad explained these phenomena in his 1973 book, “The Fall of America.” “A fearful and divided Black community creates a burden on society and that fearing man as he ought to fear God is the basis of a people’s missteps and misdirection.”
“There are many of our people—especially among yesterday’s leadership—who desire to lead the shackled slave into more secured shackles for the sake of the master and for fear of the master’s dislike of the leadership.”