Abolitionists and Environmentalists in Atlanta Band Together to “Stop Cop City”

“The people who find themselves killing us can’t even be the people who find themselves holding us secure.”


On a Wednesday evening in September 2021, Charlotte* sat handcuffed on the bottom outdoors of Atlanta Metropolis Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong’s East Atlanta dwelling. To their left and proper had been 10 extra protesters with their arms secured behind their backs, staring up at 13 Atlanta law enforcement officials. 

Lower than an hour earlier than, the protesters’ shouts rang by the evening, audible within the background of Archibong’s Zoom name, the place the Metropolis Council debated a proposal for a $90 million police-training facility south of Atlanta. The proposal, nicknamed “Cop Metropolis” by organizers, got here within the wake of a nationwide motion to defund the police and threatened to raze 85 acres of Atlanta’s South River Forest. 

To Charlotte, an Atlanta resident who works in native plant habitat restoration, the destruction of this forest within the most-canopied metropolis in America felt private. Charlotte explains that the South River Forest sits on a resource-rich watershed beforehand occupied by the Muscogee (Creek) folks. However about 100 years in the past, the land was developed for the Atlanta Prison Farm, a notoriously abusive facility that exploited prisoners for agricultural labor. The present battle to guard the land is rooted in reclaiming its tarnished historical past, but additionally in combating the widespread neighborhood hurt {that a} police-training facility would create.

“Police abolition may be very intersectional with local weather justice, housing justice, and all of those points associated to sources,” Charlotte says. “On the finish of the day, police are beholden to and defend the techniques of useful resource hoarding that profit company elite and rich folks.”

To fight the destruction of the forest and the development of the power, Atlanta residents shaped a coalition in spring 2021. Over the following 12 months, the Cease Cop Metropolis motion would mobilize hundreds of Atlanta residents to tackle companies, cops, bulldozers, and the White supremacy of their midst.

Policing Versus Public Security

When America erupted in protest within the wake of George Floyd’s murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Atlanta was combating to avenge one in every of its personal. On June 12, 2020, lower than three weeks after Floyd was killed, Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe fatally shot 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks, wounding the town’s Black neighborhood and inciting nationwide outcry. 

Within the following days, cracks appeared within the Atlanta Police Division. Police Chief Erika Shields resigned from the publish she’d held since 2016, and APD officers staged a “blue flu,” calling in sick en masse to protest the felony homicide fees introduced in opposition to Rolfe. Two days into the strike—a couple of week after Brooks’ homicide—the Atlanta Police Basis announced $500 bonuses for each Atlanta police officer to “stem attrition and enhance morale,” in response to a press release. 

The Atlanta Police Foundation is a nonprofit group that helps APD by funding extra expertise, coaching, and sources that aren’t included within the metropolis’s already sturdy price range. In line with a 2021 report by Colour of Change and LittleSis, there are police foundations in practically each main metropolis within the U.S., and Atlanta’s boasts company sponsors like Amazon, Financial institution of America, Coca-Cola, Delta Airways, Chick-fil-A, and Uber, making it potential to concern payouts, just like the post-blue-flu bonuses, or to fund huge policing initiatives, just like the proposed coaching facility. 

As 2020 wore on, APD reinstated Rolfe, who was awaiting trial for Brooks’ homicide, and Atlanta Metropolis Council voted to increase APD’s budget. On March 31, 2021, then-Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced plans for the development of a “new public security coaching facility” within the 300-acre South River Forest for Atlanta’s police and fireplace departments in an effort to extend sources out there to officers and enhance morale on the drive.

For abolitionist organizers and South Atlanta residents, this was a transparent menace to their bodily setting and neighborhood security.

Organizing a Resistance

By the point information of the Cop Metropolis proposal hit the press, Jasmine Burnett was a veteran organizer for Black liberation and a longtime skeptic of the Atlanta Police Basis. 

“It’s essential as organizers to have the ability to increase contradictions,” she says. “The people who find themselves killing us can’t even be the people who find themselves holding us secure, so how will we speak about security in a method that displays our materials situations?”

In July of 2020, Burnett and some pals shaped a coalition known as Defund APD, Refund Communities. Its objective was to divert funding from APD’s $215 million budget, which was 13% of Atlanta’s budget in 2021, and reinvest the cash in communities. DARC was an affiliated working group of the Atlanta chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, however it was composed of each DSA and non-DSA-affiliated members—anybody was welcome. The group targeted on constructing neighborhood consciousness for the price range by schooling: Members canvassed neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by police violence and created a media marketing campaign known as Not Our Budget.

In April 2021, just a few months earlier than Atlanta Metropolis Council deliberate to vote on the following 12 months’s price range, DARC linked with the budding coalition of Atlanta organizations known as Cease Cop Metropolis. The teams shortly developed specialties: Neighborhood Motion Builders organized direct actions and protests; Dawn Atlanta raised consciousness for the environmental impression of Cop Metropolis; and DARC coordinated canvassing and communication with Atlanta DSA, which supplied funding. 

By mid-summer 2021, the organizers hosted near-weekly actions within the South Atlanta Forest. The occasions ranged from neighborhood nurturing, equivalent to potlucks, studying teams, and barbecues, to motion constructing, equivalent to protests, teach-ins, and canvassing.

Because the organizers’ efforts ramped up, the power plan progressed. On June 7, Atlanta Metropolis Council voted to pass the 2022 city budget with a $15 million improve in police funding, a disheartening conclusion for protesters after a 12 months of DARC mobilization. Moreover, Councilwoman Joyce Shepard, who represents coalition member Neighborhood Motion Builders’ district, introduced an ordinance to formally fork over 381 acres of forested land to the Atlanta Police Basis at a price of $10 per 12 months for 50 years. 

Cease Cop Metropolis doubled down, hosting a week of community action within the South River Forest to construct neighborhood and lift consciousness of what was in danger.

Following the Cash

Nolan Huber-Rhoades, a resident of Oakland Metropolis in Atlanta and a former DARC organizer, explains that the motion isn’t nearly tearing down Cop Metropolis and APD—it’s about constructing folks energy, neighborhood, and an alternate narrative about policing. A doctoral candidate at Beulah Heights College, Huber-Rhoades’ abolition efforts are knowledgeable by his analysis about narrative paradigm principle, which examines the methods folks take into consideration the world round them by tales, or “paradigms.” 

Plans like Cop Metropolis that intention to “enhance” policing, Huber-Rhoades explains, are put forth in a paradigm that believes the police are supposed to serve and defend, however abolitionist actions like Defund the Police function in a paradigm that acknowledges that police defend property and property house owners.

Because the motion grew louder, organizers recognized key gamers behind Cop Metropolis, together with the Atlanta Police Basis’s company backers. Scott Roberts, senior director of legal justice and democracy campaigns at Colour of Change, dove into researching the muse, discovering that a number of worldwide, Atlanta-based companies sat on the Basis’s board and funneled tens of millions of {dollars} into the group. 

“We realized that not solely had been [police foundations] personal entities, however they had been being funded by among the similar companies who had been within the midst of publicly declaring their allegiance to Black communities,” Roberts says. 

On the time, Coca-Cola embodied the hypocrisy Roberts describes—in June 2020, the company broadcast a message in Occasions Sq. urging New Yorkers to “admit we will do extra,” “proper wrongs,” and “pay attention and create a greater future and finish racism.” The corporate donated $500,000 to 100 Black Males of America, in response to its website. Representatives from Coca-Cola additionally sit on the board of the Atlanta Police Basis.

In late August and early September, Roberts labored with Cease Cop Metropolis organizers to stage protests at Coca-Cola’s headquarters. After public scrutiny and closed-door conferences with organizers, Coca-Cola gave up its seat on the Atlanta Police Basis’s board in October, privately telling Colour of Change that its advocacy impacted the choice.

This is able to grow to be one of many motion’s few lasting victories.

Re-Organizing

On Sept. 8, 2021, Atlanta Metropolis Council voted on Councilwoman Shepard’s Cop City ordinance. Main as much as the vote, the Council received 17 hours of public comment from 1,144 individuals, greater than two-thirds of whom advocated in opposition to the authorization of a floor lease to the Atlanta Police Basis of the South River Forest. When Charlotte was launched from police custody at 3:30 the morning after being arrested outdoors of Councilwoman Archibong’s home, they heard that the ordinance had handed, 10–4. 

Charlotte displays on the information with a way of inevitability. “There was nothing we may have performed to alter [City Council’s] minds. This vote wasn’t about what the folks of Atlanta wished; it was about what the Metropolis Council’s donors had been pressuring them to do,” they are saying.

Following the vote, inter-movement tensions within the coalition boiled over, together with dissent between member organizations about illustration in the coalition and alleged dismissal of Black voices. So DARC dissolved, however the work to cease Cop Metropolis continues. 

“The decentralization of [Stop Cop City] meant that if one group went down, there was nonetheless a broad base of individuals to maintain combating,” Huber-Rhoades says.

Burnett has since grow to be the organizing director of one other member group of the coalition: Community Movement Builders, a nonprofit collective cultivating mutual assist in southeast Atlanta with the purpose of making a liberated zone. The group’s current efforts concentrate on the Pittsburgh neighborhood—this previous election cycle, they un-elected their Atlanta Metropolis Councilmember, Joyce Shepard, who had introduced forth the Cop Metropolis ordinance.

In November 2021, Charlotte and different organizers linked with native Muscogee leaders to carry out a stomp dance on their ceremonial grounds within the South River Forest, and in December, they labored to assist the infrastructure of an ongoing encampment for forest defenders protesting the event of the coaching facility. 

In January 2022, the bulldozers got here, however dozens of organizers stood their floor, going through skirmishes with DeKalb County Police which have resulted in a handful of arrests.

Because the forest has been leveled earlier than their eyes and APD’s price range inflates additional, organizers foster neighborhood within the sanctuary of the South River Forest. 

“In all actions of resistance, we have to be constructing what we hope to switch the techniques of extraction with,” Charlotte says. “Abolition is about creation as a lot as it’s about letting go of and dismantling techniques that don’t serve us.”

*YES! has granted this supply anonymity after they supplied proof of legit issues for his or her security linked to their organizing work. Learn extra about YES!’s coverage regarding veiled sources here.

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Mira Sydow
is a journalist, neighborhood organizer, and undergraduate scholar on the College of Pennsylvania. She was born in Philadelphia however grew up in an immigrant neighborhood within the suburbs of Atlanta. Mira now serves as Options Editor of thirty fourth Road Journal, and her freelance work has been revealed in Teen Vogue. She is a member of the Asian American Journalists Affiliation. She will be reached by her web site: mirasydow.me or her e-mail: [email protected]





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