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Now That ‘Cop City’ Is Being Built, What’s Next?

The intense public debate over the planned public safety training center has been going on for years.

A makeshift memorial for environmental activist Manuel Teran, who was fatally shot by law enforcement during a raid to clear the construction site of a police training facility that activists have nicknamed “Cop City” near Atlanta. (Cheney Orr/Contributor)

The Atlanta City Council approved using public funds to build a controversial new public safety training center —  dubbed “Cop City” by opponents — following more than 14 hours of rebuke from hundreds of local residents who traveled to City Hall on Monday to oppose it.

An Atlanta Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee report released in late April indicates construction of the 85-acre facility is set to begin in August. A “soft launch” is scheduled for December 2024, according to an Atlanta Police Department spokesperson.

Construction crews have cleared trees at the South River Forest site, which is already being prepped for building, according to political consultant Leo Smith, one of 40 members of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ South River Forest and Public Safety Training Facility task force.

Smith said he visited the training center site with other task force members about three weeks ago.

“We saw the space where the horse stables would be placed,” he said. “We saw the clearing of land … putting up silt fences to mitigate runoff and we saw the clearing of pathways and the digging of holes for plumbing and everything.”

Smith said the mayor’s task force will continue its efforts over the summer to better inform the public about the full scope of the training center, which he noted includes developing 30 acres of green space for the general public. He said the media has done a poor job reporting on the planned facility.

Final plans for parts of the training center site are still being made, according to Smith.  The mayor’s task force is seeking input from the general public to figure out what they want to do with parts of the space, he said.

The task force’s next meeting is set for June 13.

The training center’s total estimated construction cost is $90 million. Recent reports confirm city taxpayers would be responsible for over two-thirds of that money, more than twice what Atlanta officials originally reported.

Mayor Andre Dickens released a statement following the council’s 11-4 vote in favor of funding Cop City.

“This morning’s vote approving the budget resolution for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center marks a major milestone for better preparing our fire, police and emergency responders to protect and serve our communities,” he said. “It also helps us look towards the north star of leading the country in anti-bias training, de-escalation techniques and other community-based solutions to keep our city safe and focused on our citizens. Atlanta will be a national model for police reform with the most progressive training and curriculum in the country.”

The Atlanta Police Foundation, which manages fundraising for the training center, hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

‘This movement has not died down’

The battle over the proposed training facility appears to be far from over. Activists and others speaking out against it have vowed to stop its construction one way or another.

“It will never be built,” said the Rev. Keyanna Jones, part of the faith-based coalition to stop Cop City, on Monday. 

Jones is also a south DeKalb County resident and a community organizer with Community Movement Builders, an Atlanta-based grassroots nonprofit working to achieve Black liberation. She said supporters of the movement are planning a week of demonstrations, tentatively scheduled for June 24 through July 1, despite the City Council’s vote. Flyers promoting the campaign were passed out at City Hall on Monday.

Stop Cop City activists could plan another march during the week of action, but organizers are still finalizing details, Jones said.

“Cop City will never be built,” was a mantra echoed by many attending Monday’s City Council hearing and others watching online.

Law enforcement officials recently arrested three nonprofit leaders accused of financial crimes related to aiding protesters previously booked for alleged acts of violence committed at the site of the proposed training center.

Gov. Brian Kemp praised the arrests and said the leaders “facilitated and encouraged domestic terrorism.” Allegedly violent training center protesters have faced domestic terrorism charges.

Supporters of the Stop Cop City Movement have characterized the arrests as an attempt to silence their dissent.

Controversy over the planned facility has made international news, but Jones said many local residents she’s encountered while doing engagement work are completely unaware of the conflict.

“We are still encountering people every week when we canvas who truly don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “This is an opportunity for more of those people to get engaged, but also for those of us who have already been organizing to take our organizing to a different level and to have people see that this movement has not died down.”