“Stop Cop City!” shouted Kamau Franklin, standing in front of dozens of people who recently packed into the Little Five Points Community Center.
“Stop Cop City!” the crowd chanted back.
The roughly 50 people who packed into the community center on Oct. 25 want to stop construction of Atlanta’s controversial plan to build a $90 million public safety training center for its police and fire departments. They are part of a larger, diverse coalition that include environmentalists, activists against police brutality, residents living near the planned training center and anti-racism groups.
“We are building movement, we are a continuing movement,” said Franklin, who is founder of Atlanta’s Community Movement Builders, a Black-led collective that organizes against issues such as ending police violence and gentrification.
“But the real work begins when we start talking to each other and develop our plans and ideas and the work that we want to do to defeat ‘Cop City,'” Franklin said.
The Atlanta training center is dubbed “Cop City” by opponents because it would include a “mock village,” similar to what is used at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth County.
The City Council approved last year building the training center on 85-acres of city-owned land in the South River Forest, despite heavy opposition. The city-owned property sits off Key Road in South DeKalb County on what was once the Atlanta Prison Farm.
Approval of the training center came amid a citywide rise in violent crime. It also followed Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 about racial justice and controversial police killings, including the killing of George Floyd and then the shooting of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta Police officers. Brooks’ killing resulted in the resignation of former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields and low morale within the APD, according to city leaders.
The nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation said a new training center would improve police morale, help recruit new officers and in turn lower crime rates. But opponents say the training center is intended to appease corporations and wealthy residents in Buckhead who are worried about crime impacting their businesses and properties.
“We know that the idea of ‘Cop City’ came about after the George Floyd protests,” Franklin said at the town hall. “The city put it really high on the agenda when they decided that there was a mass movement against police brutality.
“We understand that obviously it will be a training ground for the police tactics that will bring harm to our community, especially Black and brown people,” he said.
“Forest defenders” have camped in on the site where the training center is to be built to thwart construction. Contractors hired to build the center have been targeted in Atlanta and other states with vandalism as well as phone calls and emails urging them to quit working on the training center. APD have arrested some of those protesters.
Federal and state authorities are investigating some of the protesters’ actions that have been called “domestic terrorism” by APD and city officials.
“They’re okay with cutting down the forest, but they tell us don’t build a camp?” Franklin said.
“We need to get into a little good trouble,” he said, quoting the late Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis.
“Civil disobedience was supposed to be a good thing. Direct action is a good thing. Breaking laws that are unjust and immoral is a good thing,” he said as the crowd cheered.
The Atlanta Police Foundation is raising $60 million in private and corporate donations to build the training center. The remaining $30 million will be covered by city taxpayers. Using taxpayer money to build a place to train police rather than using it to help struggling residents, especially Black communities being displaced due to gentrification, and to tear up a historic forest in the midst of a climate crisis is an affront to the city, said Leila Flores, another “Stop Cop City” organizer.
“We have to keep coming together to fight ‘Cop City’ because it’s an insult to us as Atlantans,” she said. “It’s a means of controlling us.”