Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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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

The tension surrounding the Stop Cop City movement is not isolated to Atlanta

Recent indictments and actions from the Georgia government sets a dangerous precedent for everyone in the United States

In 2021, the City of Atlanta announced its plans to construct a Public Safety Training Center in the indigenous Weelaunee Forest on the south side of the city. The center is projected to be used as a site to train law enforcement officials in Georgia in tactics of urban militarization. In the wake of the recent growth of distrust between citizens and police, many Georgia citizens have been critical of the plan to construct this center.

Since the plan was proposed, a movement known as #StopCopCity has gripped the south side of Atlanta and gained national attention. Facing unprecedented levels of state repression and reckless police violence, participants of the movement, known colloquially as Forest Defenders, have halted the construction of the center for over two years. Many activists outside of Atlanta have been quick to aid the movement, while a great number of people view it as an issue isolated to Georgia. This, however, could not be further from the truth.

In March, Norfolk Southern, a private freight company, announced that it would be funding a new public training center in East Palestine, Ohio. Many noticed that the plans were incredibly similar to the ones presented in Atlanta. It was discovered that Norfolk Southern donated $100,000 to the Atlanta Police Foundation in support of its first campaign. Many are concerned that this is only the first of many new police training centers across the country that will work in tandem with the center in Atlanta.

Additionally, the level and tactics of state repression are setting a dangerous precedent for the state of Georgia and will undoubtedly have national ramifications. In March of 2023, 23 activists were arrested at a Stop Cop City event and charged with domestic terrorism. In May, the three activists who were running the Atlanta Solidarity Fund (a communal fund designated for bail and resources for activists) were arrested and charged with money laundering and other financial crimes. It quickly became clear that the state was taking drastic measures to silence activists and push the movement underground.

The most concerning of the recent acts of repression is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) indictment that was released in early September. The indictment charged 61 people under the RICO Act, claiming that they acted as a part of a corrupt organization to further a conspiracy despite the movement being entirely autonomous and decentralized.

A RICO indictment is a bold step from the Georgia government, but one that has the potential to grant itself a lot more power. In a RICO indictment, an individual does not technically have to commit any criminal activity to be charged. One simply has to associate with a group of people and act in a way that can be interpreted as furthering a conspiracy. For example, one individual was charged in the indictment because they allegedly purchased $52 worth of food for activists and were reimbursed by the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. Further, three individuals were charged in the indictment for simply hanging fliers in a residential area.

The indictment was released days after Donald Trump and 18 others were charged under the RICO Act in Atlanta by the same grand jury. The only other open RICO case in Atlanta targets Young Thug and the YSL gang. The city of Atlanta has clearly found a criminal charge that they like, as it allows them to convict large swaths of people in one trial. These charges are inconsistent: One group is a street gang facing murder charges, one is a group of politicians who attempted to overthrow the US government and one is a group of people that most likely don’t know each other and allegedly banded together in an attempt to protect public land and keep their community safe.

The current tension in Atlanta feels different from the city’s tensions in the past. The vast majority of repression is coming from Democrats, who the left is slightly used to relying on more than Republicans. However, the Democratic Mayor Andre Dickens has been vocally supportive of the training center, stating it will be a “national model for police reform.” The original land deal and plans for the training center were spearheaded under Atlanta’s previous mayor, Keisha Lance-Bottoms, also a Democrat. Both the Fulton County district attorney and the Dekalb County district attorney are members of the Democratic Party but have taken every chance available to repress and lock up activists. This movement and the reactions from the Democratic government are indicative of the National Democratic Party swinging further to the right, isolating radical thinkers and activists even more.

Abuses of power coming from Atlanta’s Democratic government do not stop there, however. In June of 2023, a referendum campaign began, in which a group of activists started a petition to get the construction of Cop City put directly on the ballot. Activists had only a few weeks to gain at least 100,000 signatures from registered Atlanta voters. In September, activists delivered the petition with over 116,000 signatures from Atlanta voters. At this point, however, officials have been dragging their feet, refusing to begin validating the signatures to allow the process to continue. In the meantime, they have chosen to scan and upload the signatures to the clerk’s website. The scans include residents’ phone numbers and addresses, effectively doxing over 100,000 voters in another attempt to scare those who dare to oppose their agenda.

I do not believe that Atlanta’s abuse of state power and use of scare tactics will be ultimately successful. However, it’s apparent that these actions have the potential to uproot many lives. This RICO indictment sets a precedent that criminalizes community, support and mutual aid. It’s only a matter of time before other cities start to take notice and begin implementing these same policies and stripping rights away from their own citizens. It’s a mistake to believe that this form of state repression will stay isolated to Georgia, as many big cities will soon be following suit. It is crucial that we remain in solidarity with Atlanta citizens and Forest Defenders, as we may be counting on them for solidarity when our own local governments begin to attack us.

Zach Leach can be reached at [email protected] and followed on X @ZachLeach12.

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