The protests against the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center’s construction began in 2021. The resulting interactions between protesters and law enforcement have been increasingly tense. On Jan. 18, a Georgia state trooper attempted to clear a ‘Stop Cop City’ encampment when he was injured. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director (GBI) stated the protester fired first and the officer shot in retaliation. The GBI has decided not to reveal the officer’s identity Footage of the interaction is not available.
The Saturday demonstration started as a peaceful march in remembrance of Tortuguita, the activist killed by law enforcement. Participants shared memories of Tortuguita, who they described as loving and caring.
Atlanta Police say the protests turned violent after 6 p.m. Civilian footage captured the damage done to buildings and police equipment. A subsection of protesters set a police vehicle on fire, smashed business windows and tagged anti-Cop City graffiti. Masked individuals lit fireworks in front of the building housing the Atlanta Police Foundation and smashed its windows.
Different Georgia officials addressed the event. Mayor Andre Dickens stated, “We will find you, and we will arrest you, and you will be held accountable,” at a Saturday night news conference. Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said several of the individuals had explosive devices. The Mayor and APD commented that many protesters were not from Georgia.
Sean Wolters, an affiliate of the “Defend the Atlanta Forest” movement, told CNN, “Why are we even talking about a few windows really, when we should be focused on the life of (Tortuguita) and what he stood for and investigating what happened to him independently?” He also stated protesters came from out of state and it is “their constitutional right to do so.” Social media housed flyers for the protest, some reading, “Police killed a protester. Stand up. Fight back.”
Wolters states that Wednesday’s killing was “indicative of a level of extreme escalation by the police.”
The protests against the Atlanta Public Training Center, colloquially referred to as ‘Cop City’, are composed of different groups and movements. The Atlanta Police Foundation’s project will cost $90 million and sprawl across 85 acres. The construction is planned in the South River forest, which Atlanta city-planners had previously agreed to protect. The plans include a K-9 training unit, a helicopter pad, a shooting range and a mock village. The city of Atlanta will rent the area to the Atlanta Police Foundation.
The South River forest is located in DeKalb County, a predominantly Black and underfunded area. Some activists state that the facility’s construction would demolish Indigenous Creek land. Others against the training center reference its potential danger to the environment. Many protesters think ‘Cop City’ is in retaliation to the 2020 BLM demonstrations. Residents of the area have complained about noise from the police training.
The Atlanta Police Foundation argues the training center is a necessity. They state it will boost morale and increase recruitment. Moreover, the current training conditions are “substandard.” Georgia officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Mayor Andre Dickens, support its construction. UPS, Wells Fargo, The Home Depot, Equifax, Waffle House and Delta Air Lines support Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
The Atlanta Police Foundation plans to proceed with the construction of the Atlanta Public Training Center. The site is disputed amongst individuals and activists. Mayor Andre Dickens says he will continue to seek legal action against those who “commit illicit activities.”
Atlanta, known as a City in a Forest, will continue to have civil unrest due to ‘Cop City.’