Cop City Is A Step Toward Cop Nation
12:19 PM EST on January 27, 2023
The murder of 26-year-old Tortuguita, a community organizer and forest defender, by Atlanta police last week sent shockwaves through the city. The activist, who is nonbinary and queer and who went by a single name, was part of the protest camp demonstrating against the city's planned 85-acre police training facility that is set to be built in South River Forest (a.k.a. the Weelaunee Forest) just outside of Atlanta. SWAT units cleared out protesters in the area and, according to reports, gunshots were heard around 9 a.m. on Jan. 18. The police claim that Tortuguita—an activist who was vocally committed to nonviolence—shot first, injuring a Georgia state trooper, but coincidentally there is no bodycam footage of the incident to corroborate that version of events.
Tortuguita's murder was the first in a chain of events that has brought new attention to what locals have dubbed "Cop City." The $90 million training center first became a hot-button local issue when it was announced in 2020. But over the last few months, activists from all over have made their way to these forests to inhabit the land and face off against police. On Saturday night, protesters marched through the streets of downtown Atlanta in memory of Tortuguita. A small contingent of marchers split off to destroy the windows of the headquarters of the Atlanta Police Foundation, the nonprofit at the forefront of Cop City, as well as to smash up storefronts for Wells Fargo and Truist, financial backers of the Foundation. They also set ablaze a police cruiser, leading to police breaking up the march and arresting six people.
The actions of Saturday night have brought Atlanta's Cop City to the national forefront, which will almost certainly bring more attention and assistance to those protesting. Abolitionists and environmentalists are united in opposition to the city's plans to take the public area, earmarked for a park and once the site of a prison farm, to build a massive police training center in the continued escalation of police militarization across the country.
“Atlanta residents and unincorporated DeKalb [County] residents who thought this was all going to be park land were told, ‘This is what we’re doing, accept it,’” Doug Williams, an activist and Atlanta resident, told The Intercept. “Everyone who opposed the training center for any reason was lumped together as ‘anti-cop.’ Now there is no trust, and in this vacuum we are seeing this become a nationalized issue for those who oppose the militarization of police, and those who want to paint democratic communities as being anti-police.”
Atlanta's Cop City is just one in a long line of highly funded police training facilities that are cropping up all over the country. In 2017, in New York, plans were announced for a $275 million update to the police training facility in Rodman's Neck in the Bronx—alongside a new $1 billion police academy in Queens. Chicago has just completed its own $170 million fire and police academy, despite facing similar protests. These are cities with not only supposedly liberal city officials, but specifically black mayors. These facilities can be seen as a larger effort by Democrat lawmakers to appear tough on crime and serious about aligning with the police in areas with high black and brown populations—a clear attempt to continue to distance themselves from "defund the police" movements all across the country, instead pushing for more police and treating their cities as urban warfare zones.
If that statement sounds extreme, consider what exactly these facilities are "training" for. On the Atlanta Police Foundation's website, they include a video rendering, and it is essentially a giant campus complete with classrooms, an amphitheater, a giant athletics field and park area, and most worryingly, "a mock city for real-world training." It's a city-within-a-city for the police, disconnecting them further from the people they are supposedly sworn to protect.
These mock cities for cops have been popping up in places from Chicago to London, aimed to give cops the tools necessary to quell potential "uprisings." In fact, so much of militarized police training in cities is about preparing for uprisings against the police. Since the summer of 2020 and the George Floyd protests, there's clearly been growing anxiety among police and their supporters about being ready for any organized violent dissent against their reign. Rather than recognize the cause of this discontent, or the danger of their paranoia against their own constituents, elected officials seem to think this is necessary—an arms race against their own citizens.
Atlanta is seeing the first major pushback against these cop citadels, but it won't be the last. The police are spending billions of dollars to prepare for more uprisings, seemingly unaware or unconcerned that their actions guarantee that more uprisings will be exactly what they get.