Cop City tensions rising as its referendum stalls

Protestors held signs outside of a Dekalb County courthouse last week to urge the release of protesters who chained themselves to “Cop City” construction equipment during the week prior. // Photos courtesy of Dean Hesse decaturish

Protests opposing the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, otherwise dubbed “Cop City,” have continued despite the start of construction on the site and roadblocks in achieving a referendum that would put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide. 

As of Feb. 6, 2024, five people have been arrested or detained for protesting the construction of Cop City in the last two weeks. 

On Monday, Jan. 29, two demonstrators, 23-year-old Temperance Blick and 28-year-old Shiloh Whetstone, were arrested for criminal trespassing after they had locked themselves to equipment at the site of Brasfield & Gorrie, the lead contractors for Cop City. Authorities released the two activists later that evening.

Three people were also temporarily handcuffed and removed from proceedings on Feb. 5 during a sit-in of the Atlanta City Council chambers. 

This resulted from the council opting to have the courts decide the validity of the petitions and associated signatures, before voting to codify the process for procedures of public referendums.

Activists working to stop the construction and creation of Cop City submitted petitions in September, alleging to have collected 116,000 signatures. 

A hand count by the Associated Press, Georgia Public Broadcasting, WABE and the Atlanta-Journal Constitution later found it to be roughly 108,000.

However, a statistical sample of 1,000 taken by the Associated Press found that many of the signatures on the petition were invalid due to the state referendum laws that govern the process. 

Many of the signees had fabricated addresses, missing personal information or were ineligible voters in the city of Atlanta. The City of Atlanta also argues that the petitions were submitted late and violated state law. 

Appellate judges will hear arguments regarding  some petition witness issues and deadlines on Thursday, Feb. 8, delaying the codification of a referendum process again. 

There is also concern regarding matching signatures to signees to determine the validity of their ability to vote in Atlanta. 

Activists are beginning to grow increasingly frustrated with a lack of transparency and the bureaucracy involved in the process of codifying the referendum, which would allow them to vote on the issue. 

“Nearly 150 days after the signatures were submitted to Council, today represented yet another opportunity for Council to protect democratic processes and respect the people’s right to direct democracy,” said Lorraine, a member of the organized sit-in on Feb. 5, in a press release from Drop Cop City.

A local organizer for the coalition Drop Cop City, Mariah Parker, believes the construction of Cop City is “environmentally racist” and that the use of Cop City itself is “police terrorism.” 

The construction of Cop City is taking place on an 85-acre plot of land in the South River Forest, also known by its indigenous name, the Weelaunee Forest. 

The forest surrounds a large community that depends on the forest for recreation and additional greenspace.

Opposers fear that the creation of Cop City will lead to a worse quality of life and over-policing of the area. Parker also expressed their frustration with the use of $110 million towards the training center. 

“I think average Georgians can all relate to the excessive government waste that this project exemplifies. We all have things that we need to see in our neighborhoods. We need to see our roads fixed. We need to see homelessness alleviated by building more housing for people,” Parker said. “We have all these things that we all desperately need and are asking for. This project and projects like these are siphoning away from our community.”

On campus, Tech’s Organization for Social Activism and Stop Cop City Coalition have held multiple demonstrations in opposition to the construction of Cop City. Protests have continued across the greater Atlanta area, both violent and non-violent. 

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said that the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center is more than 75% complete. The safety training center is projected to open
in December of 2024.

“We are moving forward as planned and not allowing distractions to deter us from improving the safety of Atlantans by completing the public safety training center,” Dickens said. “We have intentionally worked to incorporate the voice of the people, garnering strong support from the majority of our citizens who actively contributed valuable recommendations and feedback to this effort.”

The deadline has passed for Atlanta city council to vote on putting the Cop City referendum on the ballot for the upcoming primary election on May 21, 2024. 

The issue has continued to garner national attention, specifically after police shot and killed activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán near the center’s construction site in January 2023 after gunfire injured a state trooper. 

“If a Democratic city council has ignored the will of the public again and again, people should be asking themselves about it,” Parker said. “What does it mean about democracy that people are resorting to these means?”