Documentary, podcast planned about Atlanta police training facility

Protesters head through the neighborhoods to the showdown with police on Constitution Road on Nov. 13. After a weekend of protest training, opponents of Atlanta's public safety training center began marching Monday morning from Gresham Park Recreation Center to the site where the $90 million facility is under construction in what organizers are calling a non-violent 'Day of Action.' A few hundred people participated in the march, most wearing masks and many donned in plastic painters suits. City officials say the new center is necessary to provide world-class training to its officers and firefighters, which are currently using outdated facilities. Opponents say it will be used to further militarize police and construction will destroy swaths of one of the largest urban forests in the country. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

Protesters head through the neighborhoods to the showdown with police on Constitution Road on Nov. 13. After a weekend of protest training, opponents of Atlanta's public safety training center began marching Monday morning from Gresham Park Recreation Center to the site where the $90 million facility is under construction in what organizers are calling a non-violent 'Day of Action.' A few hundred people participated in the march, most wearing masks and many donned in plastic painters suits. City officials say the new center is necessary to provide world-class training to its officers and firefighters, which are currently using outdated facilities. Opponents say it will be used to further militarize police and construction will destroy swaths of one of the largest urban forests in the country. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Atlanta-based Tenderfoot TV, the creators behind podcasts “Atlanta Monster” and “Up and Vanished,” is working on both a podcast and a documentary about Atlanta’s planned public safety training center. The facility, which Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum has said will open in 2024, has fueled both peaceful protests and violence.

Tenderfoot TV is teaming up with Campside Media and Ventureland for a documentary titled “Cop City,” the term used by opponents of the facility.

The film and accompanying podcast, both set to debut in 2024, will delve into issues such as the role of policing, environmental justice and race.

The training center was announced in 2021 by then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as the city sought to combat violent crime. It’s located on 85 acres in southwestern DeKalb County inside the South River Forest. The city has pledged to preserve hundreds of acres of greenspace on the site, but opponents worry about the negative environmental impacts on the area.

The documentary, currently in development, will include on-the-ground reporting and speak to key subjects who will attempt to explain why this training center has become such a contentious project.

The film and podcast will chronicle how politicians lined up to support the need for a modern training hub to replace the city’s aging facilities. But as Atlanta attempts to move ahead with the project, pushback has come in multiple forms: hours of public comment to the city council, an effort to get its construction overturned on the ballot, forest occupation and other direct action protests from a variety of community, justice and environmental groups and activists.

An anonymous faction of activists opposed to the center claimed responsibility for a November fire that burned multiple vehicles at a concrete business; the arson followed a weekend gathering and a march to the site.

The podcast and documentary will also explore the death of protester Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, shot to death by police in January, and the 42 people arrested under suspicion of domestic terrorism. More than 60 people are also facing RICO charges.

The Georgia Attorney General’s Office is seeking to introduce Teran’s diary into evidence in the RICO case. Authorities have said Teran fired first and the prosecutor assigned to the case announced no charges would be filed against the officers involved. The diary, collected along with Teran’s gun, tent and shell casings collected after the shooting, is filled with phrases such as “Cop cars love being on fire,” “Prisons were built to be burnt down,” “Burn police vehicles” and “Kill cops!”

One entry is titled, “Killing cops is okay.” A separate entry states, “if the cops kill me, I want you to riot, burn down their stations and set their cars alight.”

Teran’s family and friends have described the activist as peaceful, loving and helpful. At a recent march to protest the training center activists carried signs reading “Defend the forest/Defund the police” as well as “Viva Tortuguita.”

“‘Cop City’ is uncovering a timely and relevant story that affects those in our own backyard,” said Donald Albright, CEO of Tenderfoot TV. “We’re honored to partner with Ventureland and Campside, whose impact goals align with ours, and to make something the way we know best: through documentary-style storytelling, no matter the medium.”

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