Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Stop Cop City: Challenging Atlanta’s long history of racism and police repression

The Atlanta Police Foundation pushes forward with its plans to construct the largest police facility in the country despite massive opposition from climate and social justice activists
Kayla Wong / Daily Collegian.

The city of Atlanta has leased about 380 acres of the Weelaunee Forest to the Atlanta Police Foundation, which plans to build the largest police facility in the country. This would act as a military-grade training facility, with dozens of shooting ranges and a mock city to practice urban warfare.

In 1820, the federal government expropriated the Muscogee territory. The Weelaunee Forest was first turned into a plantation, worked by enslaved laborers and sharecroppers. The forest was later sold to the city of Atlanta and served as a “farm prison” until the 1990s when it was abandoned. This land was known as a location for the notorious abuse of inmates, especially Black inmates.

Cop City originates from a corporate process, with $60 million in funding provided by the Atlanta Police Foundation. There are many popular corporations in the Atlanta area that are funneling millions of dollars into the creation of Cop City. Some of these major donors include Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, UPS and Gas South. About $30 million in funding will come from tax dollars.

Most communities neighboring the Weelaunee Forest are primarily Black. These communities have faced a long history of environmental racism and police oppression, which will proliferate considerably upon the construction of Cop City.

More than a quarter of the residents in these communities are impoverished and significantly disadvantaged. There are considerable environmental injustices residents face, with six landfills, five prisons, ruins of demolished public housing and dirty industrial refuse all in close proximity to these Black communities. The health impacts are devastating.

Clearing the majority of the Weelaunee Forest for Cop City would have a significant ecological impact. The forest plays a crucial role in capturing carbon from the air and has been storing it for a long period of time. Deforestation will increase carbon emissions and the risk of stormwater flooding.

The surrounding communities have vehemently opposed the building of Cop City from its initial proposal. In September 2021, the Atlanta City Council heard nearly 20 hours of public comments about the proposed facility, with about 70 percent of comments opposing its construction. Nevertheless, the city council and Atlanta Police Foundation pushed forward with the project.

There is a great sense of national solidarity, as people from all over the country have traveled to participate in protests opposing the building of Cop City. Forest defenders have been camping out in the Weelaunee Forest, under and in trees, for over a year. There have been recurring police raids, on occasion resulting in killings by the police.

Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, also known as Tortuguita, was a Venezuelan eco-activist that was killed while defending the Weelaunee Forest. The police claimed that they fired in self-defense after Terán shot a state trooper. Recently, the misinformation surrounding Terán’s murder has been exposed; Terán’s family ordered an autopsy which determined that Terán was sitting crossed-legged with their hands up in the air when they were shot at least 14 times.

There is significant skepticism surrounding their other accounts of Stop Cop City. Dozens of forest defenders and other protesters have been arrested, and at least 23 have been charged with domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism charges mandate a minimum of five years in prison, with a plethora of other implications.

Some protesters have taken up militant tactics: burning police cars, vandalizing bulldozers and targeted property destruction. However, the arrests are not made with the specific intent to punish and reprimand individuals who are breaking the law. There are also activists who host food pantries, live music and teach-ins. The police respond to these activists with equal aggression, as dozens of people were arrested and tear-gassed during a concert.

Georgia police and prosecutors have tried to limit national solidarity by framing the protests as being primarily led by outside agitators. They claim that activists that are not Georgia residents do not have a vested interest in the forest and Cop City. The narrative of the outside agitator also denies non-white people agency and the capacity to take radical action.

The police and prosecutors intend to make protesting as high risk as possible, either through physical force or threat of domestic terrorism charges. They intend to suppress the support and solidarity people all throughout the country are offering to Atlanta residents. They have avoided transparency, failing to make corporate sponsors and environmental assessments public. They have spread misinformation about the Stop Cop City activist activity and their Draconian response.

We must acknowledge the oppression, land dispossession and harm of the Muscogee people in present-day Atlanta.

The construction of Cop City will perpetuate the racist, cruel history of the Weelaunee Forest and have devastating ecological consequences. We must stand in solidarity with Atlanta residents and the efforts to stop Cop City. Stop Cop City Solidarity outlines the specific corporations involved in the creation of Cop City. We can target these corporations digitally, as well as attend and organize Stop Cop City solidarity protests. I urge you to act to prevent the construction of Cop City.

Juliette Perez can be reached at [email protected].

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