Future training center task force meetings to be open

Mayor had said group would meet behind closed doors because of safety concern
Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at a press conference in front of Atlanta City Hall about the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at a press conference in front of Atlanta City Hall about the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Meetings of the group responsible for making recommendations for Atlanta’s proposed public safety training center will now be open to the public.

Mayor Andre Dickens’ office changed its stance on the meetings Friday, after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week that the meetings would be held behind closed doors with even the location of the meetings being kept secret.

The group of 40 community leaders — who the mayor chose to bolster community input on the controversial project — met for the first time Wednesday. At a press conference afterward, Dickens said the task force members requested closure of the meetings out of fear for their personal safety.

But Thursday, the representative from the ACLU of Georgia resigned from the task force over the lack of transparency, and the AJC heard from at least one other member that others shared concern over closing the meetings.

Now, meetings of the full task force and its subgroups will be available for public viewing through Zoom.

Christopher Bruce, policy and advocacy director for the ACLU, originally defended the historic civil rights group’s involvement in the task force and said he agreed to join to fight for the First Amendment rights of protesters who face hefty domestic terrorism charges after being arrested on the site.

That changed Thurseday, after the first closed meeting and after a DeKalb County coroner’s report showed that 26-year-old environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran was shot 57 times by Georgia State Patrol troopers at the site in January.

“With the closed-door policy of Wednesday’s meeting and the report months after Tortuguita’s death, showing that police struck them with more than 50 bullets, I have lost faith in trying to increase transparency through the task force and echo our original demand to stop building the training facility,” Bruce said in a statement.

Bryan Thomas, director of communications for the mayor, acknowledged Friday morning that task force members recommended the meetings be streamed virtually during their first meeting.

“The Task Force includes a wide array of members representing diverse viewpoints, including both proponents and opponents of the Training Center,” Thomas said in a statement. “We are confident that the Task Force members will bring their authentic and candid views to inform their recommendations.”

Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgia NAACP, said Thursday that he supported the ACLU’s decision.

“I will say that my concerns about the lack of transparency have been raised both publicly and privately,” Griggs said on Twitter. “Moving forward, if the meetings are not accessible to the people, then I reassess.”

The coroner wrote that gunshot residue was “not seen” on Teran’s hands, although further testing for residue is being conducted and has not been returned to the GBI.

At least one Atlanta City Council member has called for a Department of Justice investigation into the Teran shooting. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said Teran fired first at the officers, wounding one, before troopers returned fire.

Wednesday evening, Dickens defended the original plan to keep meetings closed and said that task force members expressed concern over their safety.

“For these community members to tell us that they were afraid to be a part of a task force, let us know to make sure that there are protections there so they can do their work,” Dickens told reporters on the steps of City Hall. “So this was on their behalf.”