Originally published on It’s Going Down.
On Tuesday, May 17th, Atlanta police, backed by a phalanx of other state and federal law enforcement, including “DeKalb Police, the Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” invaded the Weelaunee forest, also known as the Atlanta forest. In the face of militant resistance, police cut down trees and destroyed tree-sits set up by land defenders, in an effort to allow contractors to begin development on the $90 million dollar “Cop City” project. On Twitter, the Defend the Atlanta Forest account posted:
Report from OTG: Dozens of forest defenders moving in groups all over the woods throughout raid. No arrests *inside* forest reported so far, only from perimeter at public park. Police seem unwilling to pursue people thru forest.
During a press conference, Assistant Chief Darin Schierbaum argued that the new facility would improve police training which in turn would generate improved police service. Ironically, this statement comes as the department is embroiled in a costly lawsuit with an APD Sergent who claims he “was demoted and retaliated against after he filed a complaint accusing a senior officer of racial discrimination” and is in hot water for an “incentive system that encourages Atlanta Police officers to arrest more people.” This is to say nothing about the continuing anger over ongoing police killings in the area and horrific conditions at the Dekalb jail, which in 2020 exploded into another front in the George Floyd rebellion, after the police murder of Rayshard Brooks.
Despite attempts by police to paint the movement as the work of “outside agitators” while also working alongside a going list of out of town law enforcement organizations, the movement to oppose Cop City has been directly rooted within broad, localized opposition. Atlanta-based organizations such as Community Movement Builders have denounced the project as “a training facility [that] will lead to more militarized policing target[ing] the Black community and movement organizing” and local Indigenous people have also come out against the project.
In a video statement published by Defend the Atlanta Forest, Mekko Chebon Kernell of the Muscogee people stated:
Today I stand in solidarity with land defenders… I call on all people to join thus movement in hopes our children may live in peace and harmony for generations to come.
As Unicorn Riot wrote:
A diverse coalition of organizations and individuals have coalesced in an attempt to prevent the destruction of the forest on a variety of grounds—environmental advocacy, racial justice, police and prison abolition, indigenous rights, and the preservation of urban green space. Resistance to the project has taken a variety of shapes, from lawsuits and lobbying to construction of barricades, sabotage, claims of tree spiking and occupation of the forest. Even a children’s group has gotten involved in the campaign.
Environmental organizations, such as the South River Forest Coalition, have opposed both the police facility and the Blackhall swap, arguing against the loss of green space, the destruction of forested land in the midst of climate change, and the impact on water quality and wildlife. The group Save the Old Atlanta Prison Farm has proposed an alternate vision for the forest, which includes a dog park, community gardens, sports fields and a nature preserve.
Those who oppose the expansion of police power have also come out against the Atlanta Police Foundation’s project, placing it within the lineage of the expansion of the “prison-industrial complex.” Such critics claim that the training facility will further expand police militarization in the aftermath of nationwide calls in the summer of 2020 and beyond to defund and even abolish policing infrastructure.
In just the past few days, hundreds have taken to the streets against the Cop City facility and even a group of pre-school students 0rganized their own demonstration and march in opposition to the development. In the face of this mounting resistance, police have stepped up arrests and repression of the protests, brutally arresting marchers on Saturday as helicopters swarmed overhead.
Wanting to set the record straight on why so many people are coming out against the Cop City project, an Atlanta resident and forest defender sent in the following statement to It’s Going Down.
I live in the Atlanta Forest and own a home in one of the neighborhoods that would be most impacted by Cop City. Today there was an inter-agency operation lead by Atlanta Police at the behest of Brasfield & Gorrie and Ryan Millsap of Blackhall Entertainment. The police raided a growing protest encampment in these woods, training SWAT rifles on environmental activists. This is an attempt to demoralize a vibrant and diverse movement lead by local community members against the replacement of the largest urban tree canopy in the U.S. with the largest police training compound in the United States.
The proposed site for Cop City is a historical site where human slavery and forced labor camp were used to work the land, following the forced removal of Muscogee people on the Trail of Tears. This land not only is the “lungs of Atlanta” due to being ecologically critical to the city’s survival, it’s a site of the scars of Atlanta’s past, with numerous unmarked graves. All of this police resource mobilization is to bulldoze it over and construct the $90 million Cop City not two years after George Floyd’s summary execution by Minneapolis police catalyzed a historic nationwide uprising of 20 million people against militarized police. They are not unaware of this history. At the last Community Stakeholder’s meeting, the APF suggested re-opening the forced labor camps as “gardens” on site and staffing them with children who are imprisoned at the adjacent Juvenile Jail, essentially re-vitalizing the Atlanta prison farm model.
Today, police attacked protestors in the forest because in the past year and especially in the past week, hundreds of community members and concerned people came to this camp and joined together to apply pressure against this project. The police will attempt to depict this movement as a small group of hardline activists, or “outside agitators.” We are not extremists. We are neighbors of the forest and residents of South Atlanta. Most importantly however this movement simply consists of intelligent people who know that the future of the world is on fire, and who are determined and willing to organize ourselves and act to defend what remains to sustain life in this city and life on this planet.
This is a site of migratory wading birds, a place where animals make their homes, where salamanders lay their eggs. This forest is defense against flooding of all nearby homes across historically Black neighborhoods in south Atlanta and southwest Dekalb. This forest if what prevents the urban heat island effect. This is why the movement has broad popular support from locals and people across the country and world alike.
The city, like the world, is only getting hotter, rent is only getting more expensive, food and gas prices are only rising. The city has no answers for this except a more militarized police force. But floodwaters do not abide property or jurisdiction lines. The climate does not obey the police. You can’t prop up a free society with violence alone. That’s what they are attempting to do with the construction of Cop City. If we don’t want to be ruled over in this society by strongmen and bullies who meet behind closed doors and who deploy tasers and tear gas in order to enforce their control over our bodies, our homes, our livelihoods, our children and the earth, then we must resist this project & all others like it. We must resist the ongoing expansion of the police and their power. We must join together and fight for our home, this forest and the earth.
People worldwide support this movement. Everyone is welcome in this movement. For the last year, we have asked that you come to the Atlanta Forest. Even if you can’t come here, anyone can take action to pressure stakeholders, contractors and those with the power Stop Cop City. The fight to defend the forest is on many fronts.
Please donate to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund: https://atlsolidarity.org