An overview of the campaign to build the country’s largest police training center by bulldozing the country’s largest urban forest; and why it must be fought against not only in Atlanta but here in Nebraska, and everywhere.
By Illegible Distro
What is Cop City?
The city of Atlanta, Georgia has more tree canopy than any other large city in the nation. A large area of that tree canopy is currently under threat from a large development project. That project, dubbed “Cop City” by local activists and community members in Atlanta, is the Atlanta Police Foundation’s (APF) project to bulldoze nearly 400 acres of trees & wildlife in the Atlanta Forest (also known as the Weelaunee Forest) and replace it with one of the nation’s largest police training centers. Appallingly, the city of Atlanta has agreed to lease out the land to the APF for only $10 per year, and the development is estimated to cost $90 million, of which $30 million will be paid by taxpayers. This project would be a historic step in increasing police militarization and deforestation efforts in the so-called United States.
The land where this project is set to be constructed itself already has had a troubled history to say the least. The land was stolen from Muscogee Creek Peoples in the 1800s, and shortly after turned into a plantation, then later a prison farm where inmates were forced to continue the American legacy of unpaid labor for private profit. The city of Atlanta, the APF, and all of their partners seek to continue the troubled legacy of the land by using it as a training center for the cutting edge of police protest repression tactics, weaponry testing, and a morale booster for the increasingly disillusioned police. This new training center would essentially be the largest playground in the country for police from hundreds of departments to come to “train.” Notably included in the plan for the site is a full sized mock-city to be used not only to train for drug raids and other types of police violence, but specifically to train in tactics to respond to large social justice protests like the George Floyd Uprisings in May of 2020.
This project to build Cop City has been met with strong resistance in Atlanta, and the various groups contributing to on-the-ground efforts to Defend the Atlanta Forest have been met with increasing police repression. The forms of resistance to Cop City have been wide ranging and continuous. From land occupations to street marches to information sessions to city council pressure campaigns, activists have refused to back down in the face of repressive tactics like targeted arrests, police violence, and pro-cop misinformation campaigns.
Is the project just a police training center?
No. While almost 400 acres of the Atlanta Forest are set to be demolished for the police training center, over 170 acres directly next door is set to be given to a Hollywood production company to clear-cut for use as a giant soundstage and airport for film production. That 170 acres is currently in use by Dekalb County as a public park called Intrenchment Creek Park. The production company, Blackhall Studios, is set to have the largest sound studio in the English speaking world built on the site if the project is successful. The construction of these studios would cement Atlanta’s identity as a new Hollywood dystopia. Following construction, property prices will continue to skyrocket exponentially, pricing out residents of historically Black neighborhoods and situating Atlanta as a new hub for propaganda films supporting the military and police. The project at large will continue the city’s legacy of slowly erasing its green spaces in exchange for short-term profit, and the city will enforce this decision (as it already has) through its militarized police.
Why is this issue relevant to us outside of Atlanta?
While it’s easy to see a project on the other side of the country as something that doesn’t affect us here in Nebraska, or something that we should merely support with statements of “solidarity,” the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The year 2020 was an historic time of social uprising against police violence, and we have seen that the State’s response to that uprising has been increased police budgets and increased police surveillance. Not only that, but our state is one of many experiencing direct intensification of the effects of climate change, through historic flooding and droughts, catastrophic wildfires, and more endangered species risking imminent extinction. All of these effects will only be exacerbated by projects like Cop City.
The campaign to Defend the Atlanta Forest represents many such overlapping points of struggle notably including the struggle for Indigenous land rematriation and sovereignty. Since the beginning of the land occupation, the Muscogee (Creek) people and other Indigenous peoples have visited the forest and taken part in the land defense project as one of land rematriation as well. This is something that is increasingly relevant in Nebraska as we currently have development projects underway in our state that threaten Indigenous land sovereignty. The modes of defense in Atlanta have been particularly successful in connecting the overlapping struggles of environmental defense, anti-police activism, and Indigenous land rematriation toward a shared struggle and end goal.
The scale of the Cop City project will undoubtedly attract agencies like the Omaha Police Department (OPD) and the Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) for training in the future, as well as the FBI, DHS, and other violent state agencies. These agencies have always stood in the way of social justice and environmental protection. It is worth noting that Atlanta has more surveillance cameras than any other city in the United States and has long been used as a testing ground for laws and tactics used to police people all over the so-called United States, Nebraska included. It must be stopped in Atlanta because if it could happen there, it will have consequences here too.
It is also worth noting that Cop City – a name for the project that was brought to the forefront and became widespread through forest defense efforts – was previously proposed by the APF and its supporters to be called the “Atlanta Institute for Social Justice and Public Safety Training”. The only reason that the project is now widely known as Cop City is that this name was circulated by the media before the city was able to brand and promote the project in language that favorably positioned it in harmony with social justice and activism. This rhetorical strategy of attempting to include the phrase “social justice” in the name of a training center devoted to police militarization points to the insidious way in which such buzzwords can be used to further community policing and gentrification efforts, particularly in historically minoritized and marginalized neighborhoods. The Atlanta forest defenders outmaneuvered the APF’s efforts skillfully, using the media to the advantage of the movement. This is something we think people in Nebraska and all over can learn from when confronting development projects and other projects of the State in the future.
Defend the Atlanta Forest: The campaign against police militarization and for defending the Earth
This campaign to bulldoze the Atlanta Forest has been met by an equally powerful, much more hopeful campaign to stop it. When the development plan was proposed by the city last year, a diverse coalition of groups in Atlanta came together to oppose the plan. Call-in campaigns against the city were launched, and sit-ins at city hall and solidarity demonstrations all over Atlanta were organized. The city council inevitably ended up passing the resolution, but this was something forest defenders were ready for.
Since fall of 2021, the forest has been occupied by forest defenders and tree sitters who refuse to move and allow Cop City to be constructed. These defense efforts have been largely successful so far, but that success has hinged on the utilization of a diversity of tactics. Those tactics have included but are not limited to: call-in campaigns, street marches, land occupation, boycotts, public demonstrations, property destruction of known contractors, educational fundraisers such as shows and film screenings, bike rides, dance parties, militant resistance of police presence inside of the forest, and other approaches. This list also includes many solidarity actions that have taken place against contractors in places outside of Atlanta, including in Columbus OH, Erie PA, Oakland CA, and Minneapolis MN. As mentioned previously, this forest defense campaign and its supporters have faced swift repression tactics from the city and the police. In one instance last month, the city of Atlanta arrested over 17 people and tased a protestor at a peaceful march for walking down the street with signs.
As the struggle against Cop City continues, a necessary tactic in fighting against its development is building awareness, not just in Atlanta but nationwide so that every city can join the fight.
Who supports Defend the Atlanta Forest?
The opposition to Cop City has received broad and wide ranging support in Atlanta. From neighborhood organizations, to non-profits focusing on police issues, to militant & autonomous climate activists, to Indigenous land defenders, to marches organized by pre-schoolers (yes, really, see photo.) Seemingly the only people supporting the proposed site are those who have a vested interest in profitting from it.
What can we do to Stop Cop City?
One big step in the fight to Stop Cop City is to get the word out all over the country and around the world. People have to know what this project is and understand how the infrastructure for Cop City will strengthen the militarization of police departments in every city. But it cannot stop there. Look to how the project has been resisted inside Atlanta for ideas of how to stop it where you live, and then get off your ass and do something! The only reason there is not yet a Cop City is because people in Atlanta decided to do something, now it’s our turn.
What contractors, institutions, and companies are involved in furthering the project?
Stop Reeves Young, a website dedicated to stopping the contractors involved with Cop City, has a list of many of the collaborators on the project and information about their companies. As Reeves Young backed out of the Cop City contract as of April 25th, 2022, the primary contractor is now Brasfield & Gorrie, one of the United States’ largest private construction firms. Long Engineering, a subsidiary of Atlas Technical Consultants, is one of the contractors that is currently actively involved in destroying the forest.
How can one follow what is going on in the fight to save the Atlanta Forest?
Defend the Atlanta Forest is the website dedicated to information and updates related to the fight against cop city. They can also be followed on social media where they post daily updates:
social media: https://twitter.com/defendATLforest
SRY (Stop Reeves Young) is the name of a pressure campaign to convice contractors not to participate in the project:
social media: https://twitter.com/stopreevesyoung
Scenes from the Atlanta Forest is a website that shares anonymous submissions of actions intented to deter the construction of Cop City and destruction of the forest:
Defend the Atlanta Forest in the Media
Corporate media has of course been one of the entities used by the police and developers to mount a misinformation campaign in support of their project. Here are some independent media outlets and other articles that have covered the actual goings on of Defend the Atlanta Forest and it’s supporters activities:
social media: https://twitter.com/UR_Ninja
It’s Going Down:
social media: https://twitter.com/IGD_News
Yes! Magazine article on the diverse coalition of groups defending the forest:
It Could Happen Here (podcast) episodes on the forest defense: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/1119-it-could-happen-here-30717896/episode/atlanta-forest-week-of-action-update-97935599/
Vice Media article on the defense of the forest: https://www.vice.com/en/article/4aw7xn/activists-are-occupying-the-woods-of-atlanta-to-block-a-new-police-facility
Atlanta Capital News article that was used for several citations in this piece: https://atlanta.capitalbnews.org/atlanta-cop-city-climate-change/
This piece was written by Illegible Distro, your friendly neighborhood subversives in Lincoln, NE. Find us on instagram @illegibledistro https://www.instagram.com/illegibledistro/ or go to our website
at: https://illegibledistro.keybase.pub/ .