You may have heard about Atlanta’s “Cop City”, a massive police training ground slated to be leased to the APF (Atlanta Police Foundation) on a huge swath of the Atlanta forest – a critical greenspace known as one of the “lungs of Atlanta.” A massive coalition of organizations, community leaders, activists, clergy and local residents have been protesting the creation of this urban warfare center since 2021. If so many people are against its creation, why was the lease signed over?
Image credit: https://stopcop.city/what-is-cop-city/
THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE?
The fight against Cop City is now entering its third year. The idea was first introduced in January of 2021, as a proposal for the creation of an advisory council that would “explore” the idea of a state-of-the-art police urban warfare training ground. The proposal immediately drew fierce opposition from a large and diverse coalition that included environmental justice organizations, the Mvskoke Creek Nation, clergy, abolitionists, local neighborhood associations, and more – because the fight against Cop City is at the intersection of so many fronts of struggle: racism, police militarization, colonialism, gentrification, and reckless environmental destruction in the face of impending climate collapse.
By the summer of 2021, this growing coalition was engaging the city and the community in a multitude of ways to stop the project – consistently showing up to city council meetings, peaceful demonstrations (met with police violence and arrests), petitioning, passing organizational resolutions, teach-ins, letter writing, bird-dogging, and a successful public pressure campaign to delay the vote. They also attended the highly controlled “listening sessions” hosted by the Atlanta Police Foundation, which only created more outrage as the attendees were cut off at 100, the comment time was limited to a total of 15 minutes after the APF presentation, and only allowed for pre-selected questions (more on the APF and the role of police foundations later in this piece).
But the day of the City Council vote did come. On September 8th, after 17 hours of public comment from 1166 constituents (with over 70% in opposition to the plan), Atlanta City Council voted 10-4 to move forward with razing the forest in order to build Cop City. Researchers who compiled data from the public comments concluded that those in the minority who supported Cop City were either police officers themselves, or residents of the wealthy white enclaves far away from the proposed site. Meanwhile, every single commenter who actually lived in the adjacent (majority Black) neighborhoods was calling in to oppose the project.
And with the greenlight from the city to move forward with the lease, the fight moved to the forest.
In the spring of 2022, the Atlanta Police Foundation announced they were ready to break ground on Cop City, which prompted a weekend gathering of protestors in the South River (Weelaunee) Forest – including members of the Muskogee Tribe (who traveled back to their stolen land from Oklahoma, where they had been forcibly relocated via the Trail of Tears). In July, after police attempted to close the area to the public, the Forest Defenders re-opened it as Weelaunee People’s Park – with a powerful ribbon-cutting ceremony that kicked off another week of action and defense, and that is being sustained to this day by the growing community taking residence in the forest.
“A Window Into the Prison Industrial Complex in Atlanta,” mapping some of the actors that constitute the PIC in Atlanta. Credit: Micah Herskind
POLICE FOUNDATIONS ARE DARK MONEY
The Atlanta Police Foundation was created in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd uprisings, which called for an end to the militarization and bloated funding of police, especially through public means. These foundations were created as a back road (https://policefoundations.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Color-Of-Change-Report-Police-Foundations-A-Corporate-Sponsored-Threat-to-Democracy-Black-Lives.pdf) to funneling equipment, funds, and other support to police after the public outcry for the opposite.
These foundations, especially the APF, have a board of directors that include CEOs from multinational corporations including Coca-Cola, Bank of America, Deloitte, Verizon, and more. While police budgets through cities are public information (in 2022, about 1/3 of Atlanta’s entire city budget goes to policing), these foundations’ contributions are not available publicly and furthers the gap between corporate power and the residents it negatively impacts. Foundations created ways for these corporations to directly impact policing in ways that are not accountable to the general public
If the police were truly here to “serve people” instead of power, why do they only answer to corporate interests? The answer is clear since the conception of modern policing: Police exist for protecting the interests of the wealthy and against marginalized communities.
RACISM, POLICING, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The timeline of this project is no coincidence, either. Creating a large multi-million dollar project to destroy a forested area to train police specifically in urban warfare techniques is a direct response from the 2020 George Floyd protests. Instead of agreeing to the community’s concern of police violence; they instead decide to double down to militarize police to quell protesting. Cop City eerily includes plans to create a “mock Atlanta”, and is situated right next to a Black neighborhood.
A quick history debrief: Modern policing in the US was created during the 1700s to quell uprisings from enslaved people and to capture these people trying to gain freedom and return them to their captors. (https://naacp.org/find-resources/history-explained/origins-modern-day-policing) This continued well into the civil rights movement era, where police were used as the violent branch of the state against movement leaders. And between and after that time, it has also existed to act as a violent branch of enforcing laws instead of protecting citizens. So while there is an idea that police can be “reformed”, we must think critically about the reasons policing exists as it is today and where the laws that the police exist to enforce come from – a government that values wealthy and corporate interests more than human (especially Black) lives. This is exactly why people call for the defunding of the police instead of reform. You can’t reform something that has no interest in protecting or serving you.
War creates money for corporate interests, as we know from the military industrial complex. So the extension into police militarization did not come from nowhere. Between 1998 and 2014 (the beginning era of the 1033 Program which allowed police departments to purchase and use military weapons), $5.1 billion in materials were transferred from the Department of Defence into police departments. It has been on a path of increasing both public funds into police as well as backdoor deals for equipment and money.
Fossil fuel corporations are amongst the corporate interests that are entrenched in police foundations. Why is this? Simply because there is a strong connection between the militarization of police, their terrorism of black and brown communities, and the way fossil fuel industries profit from this dynamic.
MURDER OF 26 YEAR OLD ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST.
JUSTICE FOR TORTUGUITA
In January of 2023, police fatally shot a 26 year old environmental activist and medic at Cop City named Tortuguita. This was a devastating turn of events, as Tortuguita was a loved community member who even spent time building homes after hurricanes in Florida and who has helped protect the forest in Cop City since the protests began.
The police who killed them have yet to be identified, as there were FBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia state troopers, county police, AND Atlanta police on the scene. The Georgia state SWAT unit which carried out the murder was not required to have body cameras, so the only available footage is from police officers looking from a distance towards a green tent. However, the autopsies discovered that body of Tortuguita was shot at least 13 times by several different firearms, while their hands were up in the air in a cross-legged position. When did police become jury, judge, and executioner for young people who are exercising their right to protest?
As people who are devoted to democracy, we must stand together with the protesters of Cop City, who are putting their lives at risk to oppose corporate rule of their public departments. And Tortuguita marks the assassination of another environmental activist, in a world where they are targeted at alarming rates for taking a stand and opposing harm to the resources we all rely on.
WHO ARE THE REAL OUTSIDE AGITATORS?
Every available “democratic” avenue and tool had been thoroughly exhausted. Public sentiment was clear. The environmental threats and racist underpinnings were gravely obvious. Yet it appears Cop City was already a done deal, long before the public ever heard the first whispers. And if that is true, then what are self-respecting people expected to do in the face of such grotesque injustice and lack of democracy?
While the protests have remained peaceful, the police have not. A massive militarized presence representing multiple local, state and federal agencies has been aggressively closing in on Weelaunee People’s Park. Since they murdered of Tortuguita in January, protestors have retaliated with property damage to a surveillance site, which was almost instantly met by the kettling and indiscriminate arrests of concert-goers over a mile away (which included many families with children).
All but one arrested were charged with felony domestic terrorism. The "evidence" for these charges? The mud on their shoes, and the legal defense phone numbers written on their arms (a common practice for protestors across the US when police aggression is expected). They also detained and released many locals, while booking and charging protestors who were not from the area -– likely to help shape their “outside agitators” narrative.
Judge Anna Davis, who denied these bonds on flimsy evidence, is married to Hal Davis, Jr. -- a Principal tax attorney for KPMG, a global accounting firm that contracts with Atlanta Police Foundation and has four representatives sitting on their board.
The “outside agitators” narrative is nothing new – it was used to discredit the Civil Rights Movement, Standing Rock, Ferguson and the 2020 uprisings, and it should be no surprise that it is once again being weaponized against the Atlanta Forest Defenders. But there is a reason the fight against Cop City should matter to people living outside of Atlanta – because Cop City would be a facility where police from all over the United States come to train. These "outside agitators" will come to learn new urban warfare skills and strategies…and then they will bring what they learn back home, to use against their own people and communities.
The fight against Cop City belongs to all of us.
TO LEARN HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT AND UPLIFT THE FOREST DEFENDERS VISIT STOPCOPCITYSOLIDARITY.ORG.