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Yes, Black People Are Protesting Cop City, Too

Local organizers and residents say the outside ‘agitators’ narrative from officials is false.

The Rev. Keyanna Jones addresses a crowd of Stop Cop City protesters Tuesday in front of the Georgia Pacific Building in downtown Atlanta. (Madeline Thigpen/Capital B)

For months, politicians including Mayor Andre Dickens and Gov. Brian Kemp have characterized the Stop Cop City movement as being composed of outside “agitators” coming to cause trouble in Atlanta.

The 85-acre public safety training facility is set to be built in the South River Forest in south DeKalb County. Surrounded by majority Black neighborhoods, the training facility would bring a massive law enforcement presence to the community.

Over the weekend, Stop Cop City hosted a music festival in the forest where the new public safety training facility is supposed to be built. After a group of protesters entered a construction site in a different part of the forest and set tractors on fire, the police raided the music festival and began making arrests.

Over 35 people were arrested, with 12 released that evening. Of those arrested, 23, including a legal observer, are being charged with domestic terrorism.

All but one person arrested at the music festival on Sunday evening was denied bond by a DeKalb County judge. The legal observer was granted bond but is still facing domestic terrorism charges. 

Over 60 human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Greenpeace, have signed a letter addressed to the state attorney general, the DeKalb County district attorney, the Fulton County district attorney, and the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia chair urging they drop domestic terrorism charges against all protesters involved in the Stop Cop City movement.

The music festival was being held as part of an ongoing Week of Action organized by Defend the Atlanta Forest, a group of individuals and organizations working to prevent the public safety training facility’s construction.

Since December, law enforcement has arrested protesters who were occupying South River Forest in organized sweeps to clear the area. Arrests were also made after demonstrators hit downtown Atlanta following the shooting death of protester Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán during a sweep on Jan. 18. The majority of those arrested have been white people from outside Georgia. However, local organizers say it is unfair to characterize the entire movement as being made up of outsiders.

“There are lots of people local to Atlanta who are organizing against Cop City,” said Jasmine Burnett, a southwest Atlanta resident and organizer with Community Movement Builders.

Burnett said this movement is a continuation of the fight against state violence that Black Americans have been fighting for centuries.

“The mayor is trying to paint this picture that Black people want Cop City, so it’s important now more than ever for us to be in the streets, for us to be linked into these movements to demonstrate that that’s a lie,” she said.

Community Movement Builders organizer Jasmine Burnett addresses a crowd of Stop Cop City protesters in downtown Atlanta. (Madeline Thigpen/Capital B)

Mary Hooks, a Capitol View resident, has lived in Atlanta for 17 years. On March 6, Hooks was one of the concerned residents who attended a press conference held by a coalition of local faith leaders on the steps of City Hall. The faith leaders urged Dickens and the City Council to stop construction on Cop City.

Hooks said it’s important for residents to make a righteous stand against the proposed training facility.

“We’re trying to have faith that [elected officials] will do the right thing when they see the damages this is causing on communities,” Hooks said.

She added that residents cannot rely on elected officials to do the right thing. Hooks mentioned city leaders moving forward with Cop City despite 17 hours of public comment where the vast majority of those who spoke were against the training facility.

“Will they submit to democracy? And when the people have decided that they don’t want this, will they listen to corporate money or will they listen to the people who actually live, love, and struggle here?” Hooks said.

The Rev. Keyanna Jones, an East Atlanta resident and member of the faith coalition opposing Cop City, spoke during the public comment period of Monday’s City Council meeting to condemn the council’s support of the ongoing construction.

“We are here as clergy to cry loud and spare not,” she said. “We are opening our mouths and crying with a loud voice to say that we don’t want Cop City.”

Many of the Black activists working in coalition with other groups to defend the Atlanta forest are particularly concerned that the crowd control tactics police learn at the new training facility will be used against Black communities in the future.

“So many people in Atlanta, Black people in particular, have been the victims of police terror even before the Stop Cop City movement,” Burnett said. She added that her protesting Cop City now is tied to the same reasons she protested the killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police in 2020.

The following day in Woodruff Park downtown, Oak Long was attending his first Cop City demonstration. 

The anthropology major at Georgia State University said he supports the Stop Cop City movement because he wants to protect the forest that serves as a floodplain for the Chattahoochee River when it rains, and he is scared of what he sees as the expansion of the police state and what that could mean for Black people.

“We’re standing across from a park where there is an incredibly large unhoused population, and seeing that money go to building empty fake houses for practice on police raids is just disappointing, I guess,” he said.

As the Week of Action continues, Atlanta’s leadership has remained steadfast in its support for the construction of the public safety training facility. Construction crews are in the middle of clearing efforts in the forest.

Stop Cop City events are scheduled around Atlanta for the rest of the week. Organizers are offering guided tours of the forest everyday through Sunday at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Every evening this week at 6 p.m., organizers are also hosting Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. 

Thursday at 6 p.m., organizers will march at the King Center for the National Day of Action Against Police Terror.

Friday at 10 a.m., members of the Weelaunee Coalition are hosting a Youth Rally and Festival at Brownwood Park in East Atlanta. Organizers say there will be music, face paint, food, and a teach-in explaining the movement’s goals.

On Sunday, relatives and friends of Manuel Paez Terán, the protester killed on Jan. 18, will return to the forest to hold a memorial in their honor. Paez Terán’s mother, Belkis Terán, told CNN she plans to spread her child’s ashes in Weelaunee Forest during the memorial.

A complete list of the Week of Action’s remaining events can be found on the Defend the Atlanta Forest website.