By Alex Binder / Unicorn Riot
Atlanta, GA — Hundreds of Atlantans spoke out against the proposed authorization of $33.5 million taxpayer dollars for the Atlanta Police Foundation to fund the construction of ‘Cop City’ during the public comment section at city council on Monday. The council is expected to vote on the funding on June 5.
The public comment lasted over seven hours and the nearly 300 community members who had the opportunity to speak were unanimous in their opposition to ‘Cop City’, which if built, would be an 85-acre urban warfare police training compound in the South River Forest in DeKalb County, Georgia.
The Atlanta Public Safety Training Center (‘Cop City’) will cost at least $90 million total, with most of the funding flowing from corporations such as Coca-Cola, Chick-fil-A, Cox Enterprises, UPS, Home Depot, Waffle House, Wells Fargo and more.
During the hours-long public comment, many of the same points were brought up by Atlanta residents about what the $33.5 million could go toward instead — affordable housing, repairing roads, improving the electrical grid, the healthcare system, education, family leave, after-school programs, building community centers, community outreach, etc.
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Children’s book illustrator and forest defender Noah Grigni spoke about DeKalb County’s food insecurity and how 20% of children and 14% of adults face hunger everyday. They also pointed out how “amazing” it was that the city “found $33.5 million taxpayer dollars,” which up until a couple months ago, the Mayor’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer LaChandra Burks and Dave Wilkinson, the president and CEO of Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), agreed to an increased amount of $32 million instead of the original $30 million two years prior, revealed in e-mails provided to the Atlanta Community Press Collective through records requests.
Grigni asked the city council to imagine what those funds could do for Atlantans who are hungry and without permanent housing.
“Imagine what Atlanta would look like if you invested in communities, instead of in repression. I implore you to stand up for your constituents and what you know they need. Atlanta needs affordable food and housing, accessible infrastructure, social services, green space, not Cop City.”Noah Grigni, public comment speaker
Many speakers also named the same two reasons as to why they are opposed to ‘Cop City’ — exacerbation of climate change through the deforestation of Weelaunee, and militarization of police and the escalation of police violence particularly against marginalized communities.
Mykal Alder June, who’s lived in Georgia since 1990, echoed what some said before them about the 17 hours of public comment in September 2021 where over 70% of Atlantans expressed opposition to the police training facility. “You have faced loud, passionate and informed opposition every step of the way, and here we are again. The citizens of Atlanta and the surrounding metro area have taken hours out of their day to come to you, we are here to tell you we do not want this.”
“We do not want further militarization of our police force, we do not want more people murdered in the streets, we do not want these $33.5 million dollars spent on a facility designed to train police for war against us!”Mykal Alder June, public comment speaker
Reproductive rights and bodily autonomy were also brought up by numerous residents, including Julissa Jackson, the Interim Executive Director of Access Reproductive Care Southeast. “I’m here first and foremost on the behalf of my children’s future, because I love them. As well as the 328 reproductive justice practitioners, leaders and advocates who signed our letter in support of the efforts to stop Cop City and to save the Weelaunee Forest. The construction of Cop City would violate the most basic tenets of reproductive justice.”
Jackson went on to quote professor and legal scholar Dorothy Roberts: “True reproductive freedom requires a living wage, universal health care and the abolition of prisons. Black women see the police slaughter of unarmed people in their communities as a reproductive justice issue. They recognize that women are frequent victims of racist police violence and that cutting short the lives of black youth violates the right of mothers to raise their children in healthy, humane environments.”
The injustices faced by Black women and people who can become pregnant are “not separate from the ongoing political attacks on abortion access or nationwide attacks on bodily sovereignty in the forms of increased violence against trans and nonbinary people,” Jackson added.
Throughout the seven hours and twenty minutes of public comment, dozens of Atlanta residents shared scathing criticisms of the members of their city council and Mayor Andre Dickens.
“Some of ya’ll remind me of middle-schoolers,” said one speaker. “You just sit there staring at your desk, poking at your phone, ignoring the teacher. Some of ya’ll talkin’ to each other, chatting, maybe giving some gossip, instead of actually doing your job to protect us, to protect the people of Atlanta. To listen to the people of Atlanta.”
Milan Barnes, who works for the Center for Popular Democracy, spoke directly to one councilperson: “I know Councilman Dustin Hillis, you’re not really looking at me right now. But I knocked doors for your campaign. You hired two Black women to canvass the city of Atlanta for you. Once again, it’s up to Black women, right? To get you here in order to protect the lives of millions?”
“Cops are racist, we have a fundamental problem. And Cop City is only a branch of the white supremacy that is just ravaging our community,” Barnes added.
Longtime leftist feminist, civil rights and queer activist, Lorraine Fontana, asked city council to consider what happened between 2017 and 2021 that “caused the city government to change course so drastically from protecting our city’s lungs, to align the destruction of those lungs to the building of Cop City?”
“Well, what happened was the summer of 2020,” she answered.
Fontana then talked about the national and local uprisings in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, “and those of Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery here in Georgia.”
“It’s not surprising to me that the corporate-funded APF would push for more police in attempt to protect their property interests, and encourage more corporations moving in to take over Atlanta at the expense of so many being pushed out of a city they could no longer afford to live in. Rather than putting money into solving the causes of criminal behavior, most of which clearly revolve around the growing income inequality in our country, and poverty.”Lorraine Fontana, public comment speaker
Toward the end of the over seven hours of public comment, Shaheed Rana took the time to highlight the ‘outside agitator’ narrative. Rana asked city council to look at their constituents. “Remember everyone you’ve seen today. These are the people that Mayor Dickens, the media and the police erase when they call us outside agitators.”
“Y’all are erasing a multiracial multigenerational movement that has been trying to talk to you all for two years. The only outside agitators in any community are usually the police.”Shaheed Rana, public comment speaker
In fact within documents provided to the Atlanta Community Press Collective from an open records request in January, they discovered that 43% of trainees for the proposed police training facility would come from outside of Georgia.
Before public comment began, people opposed to ‘Cop City’ chanted loudly inside Atlanta City Hall. Dozens were turned away who wished to comment because of the large volume of sign-ups. For more details and minute-to-minute updates from the hearing, visit the Atlanta Community Press Collective’s Twitter thread here.