Four residents of unincorporated DeKalb County are suing the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia in federal court to be able to collect signatures to put the controversial public safety training center known as “Cop City” up for a public vote.
The lawsuit was filed July 6 in U.S. Northern District Court of Georgia by DeKalb County residents Lisa Baker, Jacqueline Dougherty, Keyanna Jones, and Amelia Weltner.
Only city of Atlanta residents can collect signatures for the referendum petition, according to city and state law. But the plaintiffs argue because they live so close to the planned facility they should be able to participate in the process of collecting signatures.
“They want their voices heard and they have the First Amendment right to collect signatures on a petition to force the city of Atlanta to allow its voters decide the fate of Cop City,” said one of the plaintiffs’ attorney, Brian Spears, at a July 10 press conference at the old DeKalb County Courthouse.
“But city law prevents them from collecting signatures,” Spears said. “The law must be changed. And this lawsuit his aims to do just that.”
All the plaintiffs live or have lived within four miles of the training center’s site in the South River Forest, near the Old Atlanta Prison Farm. About 300 acres of the city-owned land is being leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation for the training center. The facility is planned to be built on 85 acres.
A coalition of activists and organizers opposed to Atlanta’s $90 million training center launched a “Vote to Stop Cop City” campaign last month. They must collect more than 70,000 signatures within a 60-day period – currently the date is Aug. 14 – to have a chance of putting a referendum on the training center on the November ballot.
The referendum would ask Atlanta residents to vote “yes” or “no” on repealing the city’s ordinance authorizing the lease of the property to the Atlanta Police Foundation for the construction of the training center.
“We want the deadline reset for the collection of the signatures needed for the cop city petition to be placed as a referendum to the voters of the city of Atlanta,” Spears said. “The goal of this lawsuit for our clients is to let all DeKalb County residents participate in the political process of Democratic lawmaking.”
Jacqueline Dougherty, who said she lives within two miles of the proposed training center site, said at the press conference DeKalb County residents deserve the right to have a say in what is built near their homes.
“I believe it is our duty to show up in the city of Atlanta for our communities, especially those residents in DeKalb County who have experienced the worst of our failing water infrastructure and live were both DeKalb County and the city Atlanta have for years built toxic industry landfills, prisons, and a police shooting range in their backyards,” Dougherty said.
The petition for the referendum was approved June 21 after being denied twice by interim Muncipal Clerk Vanessa Walden. The plaintiffs want the 60-day period restarted if they are approved to collect signatures, according to the lawsuit.
This story has been updated with comments from a July 10 press conference held by the plaintiffs and their attorneys.