Construction of the $90-million training center has already been marred by the fatal police shooting of an environmental activist; a wounded state police trooper in the same incident; a fiery attack on police and equipment at the site that led to dozens of domestic terrorism charges; and facility opponents chaining themselves to an excavator.
It’s unclear what exactly organizers have planned for the protest at the construction site on Monday, but they describe it as “a mass action to shut down all ongoing construction operations at the Cop City site using strategic nonviolent means.”
Sam Beard, spokesperson for the event, said that like with any political or social justice movement, “the stakes are incredibly high.”
“By coming down to Atlanta, there’s a certain element of having to accept those inherent risks,” he said. “...We just believe in this moment, that the risk of inaction far outweighs the risks of action.”
Atlanta officials say the new facility is critical in providing state-of-the-art training to the city’s police and fire divisions. Opponents have a list of concerns, from militarization of police to destruction of the urban forest in which it is being built.
Officials with the Atlanta Police Department said they are aware of the events taking place but offered little insight on how they plan to handle security at the site. Other law enforcement from local and state agencies may likely be involved, too.
“If anyone wants to protest peacefully, they have the full protection of the Atlanta Police Department as they’ve always had,” Chief Darin Schierbaum said. “Individuals that may decide to use violence and intimidation or property damage to try to make a point ... or stop the construction of the training center, we have a plan for that too.”
“As we aggressively protect the right to assemble and protest, we’ll aggressively stop criminal activity,” he said.
Facility opponents have tried various pathways to stop the project — from lobbying City Council to circulating a petition to force a referendum on the project. But with the petition drive effort tied up in a court battle, protesters are putting down their clipboards and picking back up their picket signs.
“The movement to defend the Atlanta forest and stop ‘Cop City’ finds itself at an impasse where it has to systematically scale-up its resistance to the project or else ‘Cop City’ will be built,” Beard said.
Earlier this week, a large crowd gathered outside of the Fulton County courthouse in support of more than 60 activists who face hefty RICO charges under the state’s racketeering statute. Movement leaders referenced the lengthy list of events on the horizon.
“We will be back again and again for this week of action, for a month of action, for a year of action,” said Kamau Franklin, with Community Movement Builders. “Because as far as we’re concerned, ‘Cop City’ will never be built.”
“Block Cop City” will host a variety of events through Monday, from block parties and concerts to protest and medic training.Activities will also focus on uplifting voices of Black Atlantans who are opposed to the training facility, organizers say.
According to the event’s website, activists have traveled across the country on a speaking tour to spread information about the controversial facility and encourage non-Atlantans to get involved.
“I hope that we inspire folks not just here but all over globally, that there’s a global resistance happening and this is just one piece of that pie,” organizer Mary Hooks said. “We want to inspire more people to continue to get involved, stand up for what is right and make sure the people get the power we need to transform our communities and our lives.”
The 85-acre site is currently surrounded by miles of chain link fences and guarded by law enforcement while the area has been completely cleared for construction. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said last month that the center’s water and sewer systems have already been installed and asphalt will be poured by Thanksgiving. The mayor said construction of buildings will begin by January.
APD still has officers reassigned from their regular duties to help secure the construction site off Key Road. Schierbaum said that the department is also planning on staffing adjustments and additional deployment of officers to the site during the protest on Nov. 13, if necessary.
Organizers say they’re prepared to encounter a large police presence.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said that the city supports the right to peaceful protest but issued a warning to individuals who may be considering entering the site.
“We want to be clear that violent and other criminal activity will not be tolerated,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “Additionally, the future Public Safety Training Center is not yet open to the public, and anyone positioning themselves on the property may be charged with criminal trespass and subsequently detained or arrested.”
“Block Cop City” leaders say that attendees involved in events — including Monday’s looming protest — will be meeting over the weekend in small groups called “spokescouncils,” which will unilaterally decide on a plan of action for the protest at the construction site.
“We realize that the number one way that everyone can move most safely together and most powerfully together is if everybody is on the same page with what the plan for the day of on Monday the 13th,” Beard said.