The city of Atlanta plans on clear-cutting hundreds of acres of old-growth forest on unceded Muscogee land to construct a massive militarized law enforcement training center, referred to as “Cop City” by protestors. As part of a broad movement with nationwide support, activists have bravely put their bodies on the line in tree sits (Chatelaine) to protest racism and environmental destruction and stop this monstrosity from being constructed.
On December 13, law enforcement conducted a brutal raid on the protest encampment, unleashing the very violence that protestors are fighting to prevent. Five arrestees are facing charges of terroristic acts, which are politically motivated and far harsher than the act of protesting deserves (Atlanta News First).
If we wish to meaningfully protest racism and environmental injustice, we must stop Cop City. Below is an exclusive interview with one of the forest defenders, Paul, about the current state of the struggle to defend the Atlanta forest. The ARD calls upon its readers to take action immediately in support of the forest defenders and the Weelaunee Forest.
• Donate to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund to support unjustly persecuted grassroots activists.
• Call a Brasfield & Gorrie office and demand that the company withdraws from the Cop City project in the Atlanta forest immediately. Script: “I’m calling to express my serious concern about Brasfield & Gorrie’s involvement in the Cop City project. This construction will further militarize police and destroy an urban forest, a historical site containing unmarked graves. I strongly urge you to drop the contract with the Atlanta Police Foundation immediately.”
• Get connected to organize in your own community with the Stop Cop City campaign.
What happened during the police raid?
A little before 7 a.m., a large number of Atlanta Police Department officers, including the SWAT team and bomb squad, started staging near the Old Atlanta Prison Farm. The DeKalb County Police Department began staging on the other side of the park with heavy machinery, including a Bearcat. The Atlanta Police Department moved into the Old Atlanta Prison Farm with riot gear and long guns. They had a paramedic team because, according to activists listening over the publicly accessible police scanner, they expected to use force to extract activists. They destroyed tents, camp stoves, anything they encountered and began shooting tree sitters with pepper balls, tear gas, and other chemical irritants. Over the course of several hours, they forcibly extracted and arrested three activists—young people putting their bodies on the line to peacefully obstruct the construction process who were exposed to chemical weapons for several hours. On the other side of the park, the DeKalb County Police Department securitized the entrance and sent in undercover officers who began chasing activists around. They moved in dump trucks and excavators to destroy all of the infrastructure, including a popular kitchen that hosted public meals and a warming station used by activists and parkgoers in the winter.
Five activists who were there to protest racism and environmental injustice were arrested and charged with “terroristic acts” under a law created to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan. They have been incarcerated for approximately 24 hours and have not received water after at least three of them were exposed to chemical irritants. They are all reporting they are not receiving water.
What happens next to stop Cop City?
Today, there was a press conference organized by the South River Watershed Alliance, Community Movement Builders, the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, and other activists. The DeKalb County Police Department used police vehicles and riot cops also to form a perimeter to prevent people from getting in. They threatened to use pepper balls on the lawyers, activists, and local journalists who arrived, but in the end, people were able to do a press conference anyway. The largest park in one of the most Black, working-class areas of the city is now closed and occupied by the police.
There was another sweep this morning, trying to extract more tree sitters who are still there. I suspect that they will not be successful.
The movement is very large and contains people from all walks of life, most of whom are not tree sitters. The police operation yesterday was carried out at the whims of the Atlanta Police Foundation to appease their donors: Equifax, Delta, Bank of America, Home Depot, Deloitte, Coca-Cola, and AT&T. Because they are seven months behind schedule.
What must we do?
In addition to donating to legal aid with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, people who are reading can do a number of things. They can form local public awareness groups and host information nights about the kind of repression of ecological and anti-racist activism. They can organize protests or call-in campaigns to Brasfield & Gorrie, the general contractor tasked with destroying the forest, or the corporate backers of the Atlanta Police Foundation, like Deloitte.
The escalation is coming definitively from local police departments at the whim of the corporate backers: an unacceptable escalation of this conflict.
• A broad protest movement continues to mobilize to protect an old-growth forest and prevent the construction of a police training center in Atlanta.
• The police brutally attacked protestors with chemical weapons, including pepper balls and tear gas, in a militarized raid, denying arrestees access to water.
• Though the police have unleashed violence at the behest of their corporate funders, forest defenders continue to block Cop City.