Either stand up or fall: the stopping of Cop City

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Before they were an “Antifa thug,” I knew Graham Evatt from soccer. We both played goalie at a small club in DeKalb County and we would meet at the field behind the charter school every Thursday evening to practice. 

There were four of us plus our coach, so we all got to know each other pretty quickly. Our conversations were never more than a few minutes long, but even so we had inside jokes and secrets that never left the pitch. I always felt that keepers had an unspoken bond; we were the oddballs of the soccer world, willing to throw ourselves to the ground to defend our team. 

Anyone who has ever played goalie would say that saving a shot is a thrill like no other. 

That thrill is not about personal victory; it is about sacrifice for the greater good. Keepers will take the fall so their team does not have to. Some call us adrenaline junkies, but I always liked to think that we didn’t do it for the high — we did it because we cared. 

Perhaps it was because of this that I was not surprised when I found out that Graham had been arrested a few weeks ago in a riot against the police in downtown Atlanta. 

They garnered a slew of charges including domestic terrorism, criminal damage and arson. 

This act is all part of a greater movement to stop the Atlanta Police Foundation from building a police training facility in Weelaunee Forest, which, if built, will be the largest police training facility in the United States. 

Since former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms approved the lease for 85 acres of land in 2021, protesters have camped on the land to prevent the construction of the pseudo-city which could contain mock nightclubs, houses and apartments for training purposes. 

Although protests never ceased, they became more prevalent following the fatal shooting of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, an environmental activist, by a Georgia State Patrol trooper on Jan. 18. 

Terán, like seven other protesters that evening, was camping on the property when the state troopers executed a planned operation to sweep for people trespassing on the land. 

Three days later, on Jan. 21, a group of six people split off from a peaceful protest in honor of Terán, allegedly including Graham. The group shattered windows and battered police cars in downtown Atlanta before police arrested them. 

The “Stop Cop City” protests are the consequence of repeated systemic failures by the police and government at all levels. From its conception, Cop City was inherently violent, from the land it will sit on to the training it intends to execute. 

The forest was stolen from the Muscogee Creek people in the 1830s, turned into a plantation and then a prison farm for much of the 1900s. 

The $90 million budget for the complex includes plans for military-grade training facilities and a shooting range in a primarily Black, working-class community. 

This project may very well force one of the groups that are the most frequently mistreated by the police to let them train in their neighborhood. 

Regardless of one’s feelings toward the police, general distrust within a community can be dangerous. 

As it turns out, many people at Tech agree with some version of this sentiment. On Friday, Feb. 10, the Organization for Student Activism (OSA) hosted a protest against Cop City by Tech Green, and crowds of students with signs arrived ready to share their voices. 

The desire to fight echoed in the voices of every speaker. The crowd chanted rhyming mottos about the people and forest lost in the struggle against Cop City. 

Each speaker touched on a different subject, however, they all had the same takeaway: it is not radical to want better treatment for the civilians and environment around us, but it may take radical action for changes to happen. 

Although I will not know what exactly happened until Graham goes to court, and even then it may remain unclear, I find myself wondering how far is too far to go for one’s beliefs or goals. 

With an issue painted so gray, it is hard to find dichotomies of good and evil. Are all acts of violence equal?

Does context always matter? 

Maybe I will never know the answers to these questions, or maybe my answer will change with time. 

However, to me, a person’s life is more valuable than a window. Just like a scrape on my elbow is worth saving a goal in soccer. 

I know that it is never that simple, and there are complexities to this issue I will never understand. 

At the end of the day, it may be true that I do not know what Graham stood for, but I do know what they would fall for.