The effort to build the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, known by its opponents as Cop City, has involved violence, death and misinformation (or at least withholding of information) by the police, and sabotage of equipment by a subset of those who identify with the broad and amorphous opposition to the project.
Thousands of people around the country – including in Connecticut – have held rallies and targeted subcontractors of the project with banner drops, flyers and phone calls, urging them to Drop Cop City.
The project, jointly funded by the private Atlanta Police Foundation ($60 million) and the City of Atlanta ($30 million), would include building a mock town (hence the nickname) on what is currently 85 acres of forest in South Atlanta, where police could practice urban warfare. Plans include shooting ranges, roads for high-speed chases and a Black Hawk helicopter landing pad.
Proposed explosives detonations were cut as part of a “compromise.” The forest is located adjacent to a neighborhood that’s mostly low income and predominantly African American. The community already suffer high rates of asthma and flooding of their homes when it rains; maintaining the trees would help address both problems. The fight brings together the campaigns against environmental racism, police abuse and climate change all in one package.
At least a dozen Nutmeggers traveled to Atlanta during the first week of March to oppose the project. During a peaceful music festival in the forest, police on March 5 indiscriminately and violently arrested 23 people who had nothing to do with the sabotage that took place a mile away. They were charged with “domestic terrorism” (a felony), joining 19 others already so charged, even though the “evidence” presented included only acts like “being in a tent in the woods,” “living in a tree,” or “having mud on their boots.” These individuals were held without bond for 18 days, and on March 23 two-thirds of them were granted bond and released, while eight remain in jail.
I was part of the Rocking Chair Rebellion, a group of 10 elders (and one young scientist) who traveled to Atlanta during the Week of Action Against Cop City. We weren’t in the forest during the raid because we were planning our action for the next day, when we visited the Atlanta headquarters of Brasfield & Gorrie, the general contractor for Cop City, and five of its construction sites around Atlanta. We held banners, passed out flyers and otherwise let the company know that we want to Stop Cop City and Let Atlanta Breathe. Our main purpose was to show that it’s not just young people who are opposed to this project, or just the local community – rather, that we are part of a nationwide opposition.
Our efforts reached thousands of motorists, pedestrians and construction workers with information about the project, and we were only threatened with arrest once. We felt like it was a small but useful contribution.
I had my own brush with domestic terrorism the next day when I attended a rally and brief march in downtown Atlanta. Scores of police in riot gear, some with long guns, surrounded our group of fewer than 100 people. A tank was stationed on the next block. They threatened to arrest us if we made one step off the sidewalk — and probably charge us with domestic terrorism.
Since returning home we learned that an independent autopsy requested by the parents of Manuel Paez Terán (Tortuguita), the forest defender shot 13 times and killed by police in January, showed them (Tortuguita used they/them pronouns) sitting cross-legged with their hands raised inside their closed tent. That seemingly belies the police version of events – that Tortuguita shot first, injuring a cop. Tellingly, the state still has not released the report of its own autopsy.
The CT Coalition to Stop Cop City is continuing to raise awareness about the project and subcontractors based in the state. We are raising money for the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which provides bail money to those arrested and helps with legal fees.
Melinda Tuhus lives in Hamden.