‘We’re not anti-police’: Black clergy leaders say new training center should be a ‘bridge’

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

A number of Atlanta faith leaders gathered Friday to say they aren’t against a planned public safety training center but want the community to be involved.

“We’re not anti-police,” said Rev. Shanan Jones, President of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta. “What we want in this justice center is we want it to be a bridge, a bridge that will be built and constructed in a way that we can have some community oversight in what happens. We’re concerned about the curriculum and the culture of training that will come out of it, not that it needs to be, but that we need to be connected to what’s going on in that center.”

One by one, leaders spoke to a crowd gathered outside Atlanta’s city hall. One theme emerged from many of the speakers: Violence isn’t the solution.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Friday’s gathering came days after violence erupted at the site of the planned center, located near Bouldercrest Road and Key Road in DeKalb County. On Sunday, the GBI charged 23 people, ages from 18 to 49, with domestic terrorism after protesters threw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at officers and torched construction equipment at the site.

Suspects could also face federal charges as the investigation continues, the FBI has said. Only two of those arrested were from Georgia, according to the list of names released by police.

Protesters gathered again Thursday night at the King Center to demand construction at the planned site be stopped.

ExploreFBI: Federal charges possible for 23 arrested at Atlanta training center site

For those wanting to protest, clergy leaders said it can be done peacefully.

“If you’re going to protest, then protest in peace,” Rev. Dr. Darrell D. Elligan said Friday. “If you’re going to demonstrate, demonstrate with dignity. If you’re going to fight, fight with the forces of the God that we serve...”

Rev. Timothy McDonald said Friday that the training center isn’t just about police officers, but also firefighters and the 911 response system. Currently, firefighters use an abandoned elementary school for training, he said.

McDonald, senior pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church, said the training center can serve as a blueprint for other cities and communities around the country.

“Atlanta, we’re the mecca,” he said. “We can show them how it is to be done the right way with community involvement from the start to the end.”