The ARD spoke with Raffi Lysius from Community Movement Builders, a Black collective that organizes against gentrification and police brutality and for food sovereignty and self-determination in Atlanta, Dallas, and Detroit. In Atlanta, Community Movement Builders is organizing to prevent the construction of a sprawling police training facility that activists have dubbed Cop City. Raffi spoke with The ARD amidst ongoing protests in the wake of the police murder of activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, also known as Tortuguita. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
• Donate to Community Movement Builders.
• Sign the petition to oppose subsidized housing for Atlanta police officers in a working-class Black neighborhood.
• Make plans to attend the week of action in Atlanta, Georgia, from March 4 – 11, 2023. Follow or contact Defend the Atlanta Forest for more information.
Q: What’s the connection between gentrification and policing?
Policing criminalizes and displaces people generally. Anytime an eviction is carried out, police are going to be there. Criminalization keeps people from getting Section 8: iit keeps people out of affordable housing. A whole lot of Black people are displaced from the community through incarceration.
The less Black people are allowed to be in their own communities, the quicker they can gentrify. The police are the main enforcers of this capitalist drive from real estate developers to displace Black residents. They are the enforcers of state and capital.
Q: Why do political elites care about Cop City?
After the 2020 protests, the answer by City Council was to establish this Cop City, in reality, an urban warfare training facility. It would essentially be a military base built on what used to be a prison camp. They want to be better prepared to repress, harass, and intimidate Africans even before we rise up to continue to displace us, to criminalize us, to harass us.
When I heard about Cop City, I immediately thought, there’s going to be another situation like Breonna Taylor in which the police run up with no-knock warrants and murder someone in their sleep—because that’s exactly what they’d be training to do. I keep seeing visions of people getting shot in their bed. Continually. I anticipate it happening because, from what I see from the murder of Tortuguita, they’re prepared to murder people about this project.
Q: Who’s leading the protests against Cop City?
The protests are decentralized and autonomous, so there’s no head of any protests, but we organize within our communities. A lot of folks are speaking to each other to know what can be done and what demands should be made of the city council, of the mayor, and of these corporations that are funding Cop City. It’s $90 million in total. $60 million are coming from corporations, and $30 million is coming from the Atlanta city government itself. So we’re putting pressure on all sides to stop Cop City: petitioning these corporations to withdraw their funding, petitioning City Council to vote to stop building Cop City, we want the contractors who are building it to pull out.
Every angle has to be touched because Cop City must be stopped. This is not a precedent that we can abide because it is warfare. This is a military base meant to colonize an already colonized nation, to strip us of the land that we were already relegated to through segregation. It would be right adjacent to the Wendy’s, where Rayshard Brooks was killed.
Q: The police claim, without evidence, that they killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán because Paez Terán was armed and shot first. What do you think?
I’m very sure that the officers that were on the scene shot first and likely were the only people shooting. It is another situation in which officers come through unprepared or just skittish and trigger-happy and prepared to shoot anything that moves.
There were interviews with Tortuguita very plainly stating nonviolent positions, and how they couldn’t possibly beat the state when it comes to violence. So to try and paint somebody who speaks like this about violence as somebody who would shoot first in the presence of an overwhelming police presence is absolutely ridiculous. It shouldn’t be believed by anyone.
Q: City leaders have claimed that Atlanta residents support Cop City, and the only opposition is from predominantly white “outside agitators,” some of whom are facing prison terms of up to 35 years under “domestic terrorism” legislation. How do you respond?
As far as folks coming in from out of state to protest Cop City, I would much rather have some white folks in trees to stop this urban warfare training facility than all of these APD officers, regardless of their color, coming from out of state to take up housing in our neighborhoods and run up in our homes with guns, shooting our mothers, our brothers, our fathers, and our children. If anybody is a domestic terrorist or an outside agitator in this situation, it’s these officers they’re intending to train.
I think everybody should be coming through in March to stop this Cop City project in its tracks. This is a state of emergency. We need all hands on deck to resist this project to the fullest capacity because it cannot go through because it means death and displacement for Africans within Atlanta.
Donate to Community Movement Builders, donate to the cause, sign the petition, and call up City Council. Everything that can be done should be done. Again, this is an all-hands-on-deck situation, because fascism is staring us in our faces right now. We’re heading into the endgame