Atlanta City Council members will consider a proposal to contribute $30 million to the construction of the planned public safety training center in DeKalb County.
The amount is in line with original estimates outlined in the 2021 lease agreement of how much of the price tag the city would cover for the project. Council member Dustin Hillis introduced the legislation late Monday night that would draw the funds from the fiscal year 2023 budget.
The legislation — referred to the Finance/Executive Committee for consideration — came after hundreds of opponents of the proposed facility amassed at City Hall and spoke for hours against the controversial project at the council meeting.
Speakers wrapped around the building, down stairs and through the public entryway while more filed through security. Some jotted down things to say in notebooks while others made signs near the fountain.
“Cop City will never be built,” the crowd chanted.
Nearly 300 people signed up to speak to council members on Monday and lasted more than 7 hours — from around 2:15 p.m. in the afternoon until around 9:30 p.m. at night. Every speaker testified against the training center.
While City Council members were honoring a local fraternity chapter, a middle school football team and other community members during proclamations, recognitions inside the chamber were accompanied by muffled yells outside the doors.
Council President Doug Shipman called names in a group and speakers filed into the main chamber from overflow rooms outside. At times, he struggled to keep control of the room while attendees cheered those at the podium while stomping and chants continued outside.
“Do you hear those people out there? I do,” one speaker, Joanna Lalicata, asked the council. “The message seems to not be getting through.”
Around four hours into testimony, Shipman attempted to clear the room after attendees continued to cheer for speakers. He was met with chants of “we will stay” and “vote them out.”
After a tense moment where additional police officers began to file into the room, Shipman allowed public comments to continue.
Opposition to the project has remained high and spread not only throughout the city and the state but across the country since the fatal police shooting of environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran by Georgia State Patrol officers on the site in January.
“The fact of the matter is: if this facility is built it will be against the will of the people,” said Atlanta native Najwa Hossain. “And you are not on the side of democracy.”
The flood of public commenters comes amid a high stakes budget season for the city, where council members will debate and vote on how dollars will be doled out to agencies for the next fiscal year.
Atlanta City Council originally OK’d $30 million toward construction of the $90 million training center while the Atlanta Police Foundation — a powerful public safety nonprofit — agreed to raise the remainder.
During a lengthy interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in March, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the foundation would be expected to raise additional funds if the project ran over budget.
Credit: Riley Bunchemail@example.com
Credit: Riley Bunchfirstname.lastname@example.org
Speakers advocated for training center funds to be alternately poured into other community initiatives and warned about the environmental impacts of construction on the South River Forest.
Others noted the rarity that all the hundreds of speakers who attended Monday’s meeting were in consensus about their stance against the planned training facility.
Many Atlanta residents said they came to push back against the narrative that most of the opponents of the project are from outside of the city.
“I was born and raised in Atlanta and I’m here today because I love this city, I love this forest and I love this community,” said Noah Grigni. “I am not a domestic terrorist, I am not an ‘outside agitator’ — none of us are.”
City Council members have been grappling with how to handle outcry over the training center and before Monday had already listened to hours of testimony over the course of many council meetings.
Outside attorneys disagree with city lawyers that council members don’t have the authority to move against the lease agreement with the Atlanta Police Foundation. But even council members who have been vocal about their concerns say that there wouldn’t be enough votes to do anything, even if they believed they could take action.