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Cop City Controversy

Wesley F.
“Cop City” referendum in Atlanta City Hall.

In the face of widespread opposition, the city of Atlanta is proceeding with their plans to build an 85-acre police training center, often referred to as “Cop City” in the South River Forest in Dekalb County. The project, officially titled the “Atlanta Public Safety Training Center”, has been estimated to cost about $90 million and is funded by taxes.

The deforestation of that allotted acreage in the South River Forest has displaced some of Atlanta’s homeless population and has caused an uproar from many residents in Atlanta and the surrounding areas.

Not all locals are in opposition, though. “Sometimes trees have to die to build things” says Heather Nelson, “A better way to save the trees is to curb new housing developments by big developers and work on renovating existing homes and revitalizing inner city neighborhoods, instead of moving outwards and developing housing projects.”

Although 85 acres is being taken down, she noted that this is a 3,500 acre forest, so the majority of that habitat will stay intact.

Taylor Hicks has lived in the metro Atlanta area all of her life. Before switching jobs a year ago, she spent years commuting downtown for her marketing job with Coca Cola. “I think it’s sick to be tearing invaluable ecological assets when there is existing industrial space in the Atlanta area just sitting empty. There are large factories, office buildings, whole industrials parks that could be repurposed and yet they need to tear down 85 acres of a dwindling forest. For what? Ego?”

Construction began in August of this year, but the petition to halt that construction was submitted by the Stop Cop City Coalition with approximately 116,000 signatures on Sept. 11. The city of Atlanta is hesitating to recognize the validity of that petition, citing an alleged due date of Aug. 29.

Those who are against the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center are now pushing for non-Atlanta residents to have a voice in future petitions related to the matter, claiming the project will affect more than just residents.

The belief of the “Stop Cop City” movement is that this militarization of a major city’s police force will influence the surrounding areas and the approach to policing in other major cities. Many who are opposed to the new training facility fear that it will only add to the criminalization of marginalized people and contribute to the already over-run American Prison Industrial Complex.

“It’s potentially adding more fuel to a raging fire under the guise of helping to put it out” says Kate Driscoll. As a Georgia State University alumnus, she attended all four years of her bachelor’s degree on the downtown Atlanta campus. She also works in the metro Atlanta area and feels she is directly affected by this project, despite no longer living in the city.

“We have had active shooters, drag racing, random murders in the park and constant car break-ins. We are over it. The police need to feel like respected and supported members of our community again if we are going to get any help.” – Heather Nelson

On the other hand, some Atlanta residents have had enough of the daily chaos unfolding on the streets of Atlanta and feel more optimistic about what the training facility might mean for the city. Heather Nelson and her husband have lived in Midtown Atlanta since spring of 2012.

Nelson’s husband, Eric, says “I hate the bad cops as much as anyone, but most cops are just trying to do the best they can. I’m not a ‘back the blue’ guy at all, but I recognize the need and I want a strong police force in this city.”

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