"Stop Cop City"
15 million people protested after the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020. Less than three weeks later, protests erupted in Atlanta after police killed Rayshard Brooks. These protests led to the proposal of Cop City, a $90 million, 85-acre police training facility to be built in Atlanta’s Weelaunee Forest. Two-thirds of Cop City’s funding comes from corporations like Delta, Waffle House, and Home Depot, which view Cop City as vital to protecting their property interests. These donations are eerily reminiscent of corporate donations of millions of dollars to militarize New York police during the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Cop City better resembles a military training facility than a police training facility. It includes explosive testing areas, shooting ranges, a Black Hawk helicopter landing pad, and a mock city to practice urban warfare. Georgia police are already dangerously over-militarized, having received tens of millions of dollars worth of military equipment, including 2,700 military rifles and hundreds of armored vehicles. In Georgia, police departments that received military equipment killed four times as many people as departments that did not – likely because militarized police see themselves as combatants, not public servants. The correlation between military equipment and killings holds even after accounting for potential confounding variables like crime rates and poverty. Cop City will cause even more police brutality by teaching police advanced crowd control methods, like using tear gas, and training police to view citizens as enemies. Moreover, many areas outside of Georgia will be impacted as 43% of police trainees will come from out of state.
Cop City also contributes to environmental racism. The city is building the complex in Weelaunee Forest, which is near the majority-Black southeastern part of Atlanta. Cop City will destroy much of the forest, which absorbs as much as 19 million pounds of air pollutants annually. The complex will also pollute the South River as toxic metals from munitions seep into it. Because affluent white communities can lobby the government to not place environmental hazards in their communities, the brunt of Cop City’s environmental impacts will affect Black communities.
Stop Cop City organizers have good reason to protest, but Atlanta’s response has been violent and authoritarian. In January, climate protests occupied Weelaunee Forest to stall the construction of Cop City. Georgia State Patrol troopers responded by raiding the protesters, including Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, an activist known by the name Tortuguita. Police shot Tortuguita 57 times, claiming that Tortuguita had fired at them first, but autopsies later revealed that Tortuguita did not have gunpowder residue on their hands and had been sitting with their hands in the air.
Later, three protesters put up flyers alerting residents that Officer Jonathan Salcedo was involved in killing Tortuguita. Police arrested all three, and Charley Tennenbaum, their leader, was charged with intimidation of a police officer, which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Police have arrested over one hundred additional protesters, including 42 people charged with domestic terrorism and 61 people charged with racketeering. The indictments are unfounded. For example, the racketeering indictments portray the grassroots organization Defend the Atlanta Forest as a criminal enterprise. This designation means that anyone involved in it can be indicted, including for acts as simple as getting reimbursed for protest supplies. Prosecutors know the indictments are ridiculous, but their goal is not to win the cases. Instead, they mean to illegally hamstring the movement by arresting its most dedicated activists and intimidating anyone who might join them.
Stop Cop City protesters need to get 15% of Atlanta’s registered voters, or fifty-eight thousand people, to sign their petition to put Stop Cop City on the ballot. Considering the mayor of Atlanta got the votes of only 11% of registered voters, 15% is no easy threshold. Stop Cop City has more than enough signatures, with over 116,000 so far. The city has responded by desperately trying to deny voters a say. They have instituted a signature-matching process to disenfranchise petition signers for tiny deviations in their signature, and they have attempted to have the referendum ruled invalid in court.
This year, Atlanta is spending a third of its general fund, or $235.7 million, on police. Shockingly, that figure includes none of the $90 million being spent to militarize police via Cop City. Atlanta echoes the outrageous police budgets of other cities around the country. Cop City is only the subset of a larger system dedicated to preserving mass incarceration and racial hierarchy. However, a victory here would spell a major victory for the criminal justice reform movement and democracy. The effects would reverberate by motivating people to protest mass incarceration and police brutality in their communities. Already, Stop Cop City is helping to motivate activists because the movement highlights everything wrong with the criminal justice system. Activists allege that police militarization and large police spending harms civil liberties and democracy. The violent and authoritarian crackdown on Stop Cop City protesters proves us right.