Preschoolers in Atlanta have had enough. In May of 2022, preschoolers marched through the streets of East Atlanta Village with crayon-crafted signs reading “I love you trees! Stop, never cut down trees!”
Other community members marching alongside the preschoolers were more specific in their demands: “Stop bomb testing in the forest! Stop the terror! Save the South River [Welaunee] Forest please. NO COP CITY”
They aren’t the only ones organizing against the $90 million police militarization training facility—known amongst locals as “Cop City”—that is poised to raze the largest urban forest in the country. Protesters—Atlanta residents and their preschool children, environmentalists, forest defenders, indigenous groups, clergy, prison, and police abolitionists—are all raising their voices against Cop City. They don’t want this police militarization effort in their homes. From music festivals to poetry nights, protesters are attempting to stop the Atlanta city council from granting the $10-a-year ground lease to build Cop City.
A community survey released by Social Insights Research on Cop City showed that residents are overwhelmingly against building the police training facility. Of 371 residents surveyed, 98 percent reported they do not support police/fire facilities being built in the Atlanta Prison Farm area. Furthermore, 90 percent of participants stated they do not support police/fire facilities being built in the city entirely.
But corporations are standing in their way.
The Atlanta Police Foundation (“APF”), the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, and Cox Enterprises are the primary entities championing Cop City. Backed in turn by a slate of well-known corporate funders like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Bank of America, these foundations and corporate actors have worked alongside local and state officials to bulldoze past opposition to build Cop City by bankrolling its construction, controlling the media narrative around protest efforts, and encouraging the silence of dissenters.
Corporations are purportedly funding Cop City under the guise of public safety and “neighborhood prosperity,” or to fulfill their corporate responsibility commitments more broadly. But their actions are placing the very people they claim to serve in danger.
Protesters continue to face police harassment and arrest for all levels of organizing. Recently acquired FBI documents have shown surveillance of local demonstrations and organizers even at the federal level. These reports describe individuals affiliated with #StopCopCity activism efforts in Atlanta as “Anarchist Violent Extremists” and “Environmental Anarchist Extremists.” Labels from the FBI—which are predicated on the narratives corporate entities are putting forth—forebode how law enforcement will engage with Cop City protesters.
And this fear has been borne out in recent months. Though protests against Cop City have been bubbling since 2021, interactions between organizers and law enforcement have recently reached a boiling-over point. On January 18, 2023, local and state police officers shot and killed a young, queer, Indigenous-Venezuelan forest defender and protester named Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, arresting seven others on domestic terrorism charges during a raid on an encampment in the forest. In early March, more than 20 people, including a legal observer with the National Lawyer’s Guild, were arrested and charged again with domestic terrorism during a music festival hosted by Stop Cop City organizers in the Welaunee Forest. Three more activists, who had been held for days in solitary confinement, are facing up to 20 years in prison for placing flyers in mailboxes that named an officer allegedly involved in Terán’s killing.
“Foundations and corporate actors have worked alongside local and state officials to bulldoze past opposition to build Cop City by bankrolling its construction, controlling the media narrative around protest efforts, and encouraging the silence of dissenters.”
Nevertheless, corporations and Atlanta officials continue to back efforts to move forward with Cop City. As of January 31, 2023, Mayor of Atlanta Andre Dickens and the CEO of DeKalb County Michael L. Thurmond announced that the permits have been approved to begin the destruction of the Welaunee Forest to pave way for Cop City. An appeal was filed by a member of the community advisory committee to suspend construction efforts, but reports suggest the project has yet to be halted. News sources report that the Atlanta City Council will soon come to a vote on spending taxpayer dollars on the facility.