The Struggle Against “Cop City” Has Decades-Old Roots in Atlanta

This story was first published by Prism.

On Jan. 18, 2023, a squad of native and state cops marched into the Weelaunee Forest in southeast Atlanta, the place they shot and killed a young, queer, Indigenous-Venezuelan protester named Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán. Tortuguita was one among many Atlanta forest defenders, a decentralized group of activists that has been living in the forest since 2021 to guard towards its proposed destruction and substitute with “Cop Metropolis” — a massive police militarization facility full with a “mock metropolis” inside for police to follow their many ways of city warfare and repression.

The town is leasing 85 acres of the Weelaunee Forest (land originally stolen from Muscogee Creek individuals) to the Atlanta Police Basis for Cop Metropolis, however it’s positioned in a majority-Black space of DeKalb County exterior of metropolis limits, leading to important disenfranchisement of its residents who’ve few simply accessible official channels to register their dissent. Whereas Cop Metropolis would affect everybody in Atlanta and throughout the nation, it’ll have particularly disastrous ramifications for nearby residents, who will lose the benefit of the forest’s flood prevention and cooling impacts. Certainly, that is land that town referred to in 2017 as one of the “four lungs” of Atlanta and slated for incorporation right into a broader set of park land — a promise town broke simply 4 years later.

Whereas the political assassination of Tortuguita thrust the multi-year wrestle towards Cop Metropolis into the nationwide highlight, Atlanta organizers have been working towards the venture for years. The proposal first went public in early 2021. It was quickly opposed by a broad coalition that included environmental justice and human rights organizations, abolitionists, teams working towards gentrification, clergy, neighborhood associations close to the proposed web site, and extra. Neighborhood members consistently advocated and attended public conferences all through the summer time of 2021. When it got here time for the ultimate Metropolis Council vote on the Cop Metropolis laws, the council assembly lasted two days as a result of over 17 hours of public comment, through which the vast majority of commenters opposed the venture.

In the meantime, it was residents from northeast Atlanta, a disproportionately white and wealthy space of town, who spoke in favor of Cop Metropolis. As one Black resident from southwest Atlanta summarized poignantly, “It doesn’t seem as if the police shield us. They shield the north facet. However you need them to coach over right here … why is that?”

Regardless of the huge native opposition to Cop Metropolis, a combination of state and corporate forces labored hand in hand for years to push for its creation. The personal nonprofit Atlanta Police Basis (APF) championed the imaginative and prescient for Cop Metropolis, engaged on the plans for it since at least 2017. APF is backed by a mixture of a few of Atlanta’s most prominent corporations, together with Delta, UPS, House Depot, Wells Fargo, and Coca-Cola, in addition to major foundations just like the Georgia Energy Basis and the Woodruff Basis, whose founder was the president of Coca-Cola from 1923-85. Most of the identical companies’ leaders sit on the Atlanta Committee for Progress (ACP), a public-private partnership made up of company, state, nonprofit, and university leaders that has vocally supported Cop Metropolis — together with the 2021 dedication from their then-Board Chair Alex Taylor to lead the fundraising campaign for $30 million in personal funds, half of the anticipated $60 million whole price to construct the ability. Taylor can also be the CEO of Cox Enterprises, the company that owns Atlanta’s fundamental media outlet, the Atlanta Journal-Structure — leading to an endless stream of pro-Cop City op-eds and editorials for the reason that venture was introduced, with the paper often failing to disclose the connection between AJC and Cox.

In different phrases, Cop Metropolis is a essentially anti-democratic venture pushed by a mixture of highly effective actors, whereas Atlanta’s residents, notably these closest to the proposed web site, have been completely ignored.

Atlanta’s Olympic Metropolis and Mass Displacement

That is removed from the primary time that Atlanta has prioritized the desires of its ruling class over the group; it’s a defining feature of Atlanta governance. Whereas the battle to Cease Cop Metropolis is a newer wrestle towards the Atlanta ruling class’ orientation towards its most weak residents, it needs to be understood inside a for much longer development of state, company, and nonprofit forces banding collectively to form town of their pursuits and on the expense of Black and working-class residents. This sample confirmed up maybe most vividly within the transformation of town that occurred within the leadup to the 1996 Olympics.

To draw the Olympics and the supposed enhance in income and fame that the Video games would deliver, Atlanta’s political and financial management labored to physically and ideologically reshape Atlanta as a world-class city — a mission that predated but intensified throughout the metropolis’s preparation for the Olympics. Whereas the APF and ACP lead the push for Cop Metropolis in the present day, the personal nonprofit Atlanta Committee on the Olympic Video games (ACOG) and teams just like the Central Atlanta Progress (a nonprofit representing Atlanta’s enterprise pursuits) championed the vision and metropolis transformation for the Olympics.

Upon being chosen for the 1996 Olympics, town’s leaders ready Atlanta for the video games with displacement, destruction, and redevelopment. In 1995, town destroyed Techwood Houses, the U.S.’s oldest federally sponsored public housing venture, to clear the way for the Olympic village that will home athletes and media. Simply south of Techwood Houses, the Techwood Park district — an “economically and culturally vibrant location” residence to over 10% of town’s shelter capability that was painted as a “slum” by town’s company forces — was remodeled by ACOG into the fenced-in Centennial Olympic Park. A number of different neighborhoods had been lower up or destroyed within the service of the Olympics, together with Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood, which was changed by the Centennial Olympic Stadium and an array of townhouses that had been unaffordable for prior residents.

The town additionally made important coverage modifications and different infrastructural investments that will facilitate displacement, typically by way of criminalization. In 1991, the Atlanta Metropolis Council passed new city laws hyper-criminalizing homelessness — legal guidelines that, in accordance with historian Maurice Hobson, “had been so ambiguous that they could be enforced towards undesirables on the discretion of authorities.” In 1995, town opened the Atlanta Metropolis Detention Middle downtown with an approximate 1,000-bed capability, which state forces used to clear largely Black homeless individuals from the streets and maintain them over the weekend when vacationers flooded town. Hauntingly, the brand new jail was referred to by one city official as “the primary Olympic venture accomplished on time.” Organizers are still fighting to shut this jail.

The town displaced roughly 30,000 people from their properties between 1990 and 1996 and illegally arrested over 9,000 homeless individuals between 1995 and 1996. On the time, some activists even uncovered the Atlanta Police Division’s use of pre-printed tickets with classes crammed out for “African American,” “Male,” and “Homeless.”

Whereas state and company actors had been the important thing drivers of the Olympic transformation, nonprofits additionally aided instantly within the displacement, lending sources, involvement, and canopy to state violence. For instance, through a partnership between town and the nonprofit group Vacationers Help, homeless people got one-way tickets out of city and had been reportedly required to signal pledges to not return. Simply as state and company entities partnered with nonprofits throughout the Olympic displacement, in the present day, the Atlanta Police Basis is partnering with the Nationwide Middle for Civil and Human Rights to supply “human rights” training to the Atlanta Police Division — a partnership touted throughout the leadup to the Metropolis Council vote on Cop Metropolis.

Striving to Turn out to be a “World-Class Metropolis”

Within the two and a half many years for the reason that Video games, Atlanta’s hostility towards Black and working-class residents has solely intensified. Atlanta’s management frequently poured vast sums of public money into personal tasks whereas town has gentrified quickly and low-income residents have been pushed additional out. In 2017, the Metropolis closed Peachtree and Pine, town’s largest homeless shelter. Ownership of the building has since been transferred to Central Atlanta Progress, the group that after helped to champion Atlanta’s Olympic transformation. As Anita Beaty, then-executive director of the Metro Atlanta Process Power for the Homeless, noted, “the [Olympic] juggernaut was a dry run, a gown rehearsal for the builders and the elites to take over town, to take over the planning, housing building — to eradicate public housing.” These phrases have confirmed to be tragically true.

At this time, lots of the identical forces that after labored to reshape town proceed to construct on town’s Olympic legacy to draw different giant occasions, most prominently the 2024 Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Within the metropolis’s bid to draw the DNC — an occasion that has been in comparison with the Olympics — Atlanta’s management has touted its resort capability, deliberate enhancements to stadium infrastructure, and town’s capacity to name on at the least 27 different police and fireplace departments in close by areas.

Whereas these occasions are definitely not the one purpose that metropolis management has labored so onerous to create Cop Metropolis, they’re nonetheless instantly associated. Atlanta’s quest to border itself as a world-class metropolis that’s welcoming to vacationers and large enterprise will proceed to go hand in hand with elevated policing and displacement. At a latest Metropolis Council assembly, for instance, the Atlanta chief of police stated that he was looking for to recruit over 400 extra cops by the point of the 2026 World Cup. Likewise, regardless of committing in 2019 to closing town jail inbuilt preparation for the Olympics, in 2022, metropolis management instead voted to re-open and fill the jail with 700 individuals from the county jail.

In different phrases, in terms of the displacement, destruction, and violence related to the vastly unpopular Cop Metropolis venture, Atlanta has been right here earlier than. State and company forces proceed to run town within the service of actual property capital, tech jobs, tourism, and upper-class white communities — and on the expense of Black and working-class residents. Carceral enlargement, actual property growth, and main occasions proceed to mutually reinforce each other.

However simply as there have been once protests towards the violence of the Olympic venture in Atlanta, so too are individuals resisting state violence in the present day. The motion to Cease Cop Metropolis is barely turning into extra highly effective as extra individuals be part of every single day and take motion even within the midst of massive and likely unconstitutional state repression. Whereas Atlanta’s posture towards its most weak has held regular for many years, the Cease Cop Metropolis motion is right here to remain. The motion has the potential not simply to cease the destruction of the forest and the development of a lethal police playground, but in addition to start reversing the transformation that has for thus lengthy held our communities ransom. After we battle, we win.

Prism is an impartial and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of coloration. We report from the bottom up and on the intersections of injustice.

A fast message earlier than you retain studying

We’re proud to publish actual information one year of the 12 months, fully freed from cost to our readers. However producing high-quality, impartial work is just not cost-free – we rely closely in your assist.

In the event you discovered the piece above helpful, informative, or inspiring, please think about supporting Truthout with a tax-deductible donation. A present of any measurement makes a distinction and helps preserve this distinctive platform alive.