A banner hangs outside Atlanta City Hall on June 5, 2023 during protests against the city council voting to fund the public safety training facility known as Cop City. A chalk memorial to slain activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran can be seen on the sidewalk. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

I was walking home from lunch on May 3 when I heard what sounded like every emergency vehicle in Atlanta converging all at once on Midtown.

Seconds later, the friend I’d just had lunch with texted from her Uber that something was going on at the Northside Hospital Midtown facility on West Peachtree.

As the cacophony of sirens continued, my cell phone started buzzing with alerts and messages. A shooting had occurred at the Northside medical offices, multiple people were shot, a suspect was on the loose, and Midtown buildings were being locked down. Including mine.

As I raced back to my desk, I already knew it was another mass shooting. This was the second one to occur in my neighborhood after last summer’s shooting by a woman disgruntled with her employers.

The usual round of “thoughts and prayers” were posted on social media, while U.S. lawmakers argued over the 2nd Amendment.

Republican leadership is entrenched in their immovable belief in gun rights, while most Democrats continue to call for gun control. As of this writing, there has been a tiny chink in the armor in, of all places, Tennessee, where the Republican governor has called for a legislative special session in August to tackle gun reform after the deadly Nashville school shooting.

Georgia Democrats called for a similar special session but were ignored by the Republican majority who believe even discussing gun control is an untouchable third rail.

Meanwhile, there’s the specter of the controversial Atlanta public safety training facility, which has been stuck with the “Cop City” moniker that, like “Murder Kroger,” is now part of the vernacular.

The location of Cop City on a piece of Atlanta-owned land in South DeKalb County was originally earmarked for a park since it’s part of the larger South River Forest, described as the “lungs of Atlanta” in the city’s own map for the future outlined in 2017. A park is still planned for the South River Forest, but its next-door neighbor is a far cry from what the city planners envisioned just six years ago.

In the old “they were against it before they were for it” political shell game, Mayor Andre Dickens and many members of the Atlanta City Council have decided to press ahead with Cop City despite record-breaking public comment – not once, but twice – against it and the death of activist Manuel Teran on the property in January.

The Atlanta City Council approved the use of $67 million in taxpayer dollars early this morning after nearly 15 hours of public dissent in an 11-4 vote. With some council members on their phones, falling asleep, and disappearing from the dais, it was obvious which way the wind was blowing.

Cop City was viewed as the city’s cudgel against the secessionist movement using crime as a wedge issue for a ballot referendum, but with Buckhead City dead and buried, who and what is the 85-acre Cop City for?

Will it help deter mass shootings? The answer is an unequivocal no. It might help police and fire personnel better respond to them, but surely that’s not a selling point. Dickens has argued the training facility would help raise police standards and engagement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, but it’s unclear how that will be accomplished at the site.

The perception that Cop City will be used to further “militarize” police remains hard to dispel as a full-scale town will be built for various engagement scenarios, along with a helicopter landing pad, a driving course, and a shooting range.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum and his predecessors have all pointed out that Atlanta’s high rate of shootings can’t be attributed to robberies or random acts of violence, but instead stem from disputes between parties that often know each other. How will Cop City solve that?

Of course, Atlanta’s police and firefighters need a training ground, but do they need it in both an environmentally and socioeconomically fragile area of the metro? City officials said they don’t have anywhere else to put it, which might come down to the fact that it’s 85 acres.

Unfortunately, the mayor and council let the activists seize the narrative of the potential benefits of the training center and I think Mayor Dickens and Co. understand there is no turning the ship around.

More than 40 people have been shot in the city of Atlanta since May 1 with most of the incidents classified as aggravated assault. Five of those people have died, including Amy St. Pierre – the victim of the Midtown mass shooting, who was opposed to Cop City. There have been more than 200 mass shootings in America since Jan. 1.

Is the 85-acre Cop City going to significantly decrease those numbers? I’m waiting for someone to explain it to me. And so are many others in the city of Atlanta.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.