Saturday’s peaceful protest attracted young activists, families with children, clergy and neighbors to start what Johnson said was envisioned as the movement’s “most successful week of action ever.”
Johnson said the opposition had grown over two years from a small rag-tag group to a movement. “Every time that they thought they had backed us into a corner with their repression, we had more of you show up and support this movement and we thank you so much,” said Johnson, executive director of Beloved Community Ministries.
The organizers of the “Defend the Atlanta Forest” movement view the training center as an effort by Atlanta to “militarize” the police while also compromising the environment by building a center on land that they say should be preserved and cleaned up. The city says the center is a much-needed and long-overdue training facility for Atlanta’s police officers and firefighters.
The conflict over the project attracted national attention after a Georgia State Patrol trooper in January fatally shot protester Manuel Teran at the training site. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Teran shot first and wounded the trooper as the state tried to clear the property of protesters.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said this past week the city is creating a new task force to address concerns surrounding the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center site.
The property is leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation for the construction of the $90 million facility. The site is a former city prison farm that is currently forested land off Key Road in southwestern DeKalb County.
On Saturday, after a series of remarks from activists, the group marched together to take part in events such as collective meals, forest tours and a music festival.
Joe Peery, of the South River Forest Coalition, said he and others had been pushing for years for the preservation of the land well before the police training center was on the table. He planned to lead a forest tour Saturday as part of the day’s events to help people get a better sense of what was at stake. “It’s a huge environmental concern,” he said.
However, the Atlanta Police Foundation said in a statement that the new task force will help ensure the city’s South River Forest acreage will reflect the development and preservation concerns of the broader community as the project’s construction continues.
Chad Hale, a pastor at Georgia Avenue Church in Grant Park, joined the protest Saturday holding a sign that said “Clergy Against Cop City.”
Hale said he was extremely disappointed that the Atlanta City Council voted in favor of the project. “For us to get more and more militarized is not a good direction — it’s the most uncreative way to approach crime.”