OPINION: Is police training center marathon end of the story? Hardly

In the end, the recent tumult didn’t matter at all: The revelations that the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center would cost more than originally thought. Or last week’s raid and arrest of three activists accused of funding vandalism. Or the more than 14 hours of cacophonous public comment at City Hall.

The vote to fund what opponents deride as “Cop City” sailed through with an 11-4 vote as the sun was set to rise Tuesday. It was the same margin as the original vote two years ago.

The city, which badly needs a new training center for police and fire departments, can now go about building the $90 million facility on 85 acres. It will be funded by the $31 million approved Tuesday, as well as $1.2 million annual payments to the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF).

Exactly who is paying for what has been in recent weeks a game of Whack-a-Mole. For two years, the city and APF insisted that the city would pay $30 million and the foundation would pony up $60 million. Until recently, that is. Then the city was suddenly on the hook for millions more. It was an issue opponents picked up on frequently during the marathon City Council Extravaganza.

The project has had a lot of pushback from the start. The city, like Muhammad Ali covering up and leaning back on the ropes, tried to rope-a-dope the protest movement, hoping their opponents would run out of steam. But, unlike George Foreman, the the Stop Cop City crowd grew stronger and louder.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

More than 200 spoke to the council and perhaps 600 came to City Hall. Perhaps more. The council chamber was packed, as was the atrium where the spillover crowd gathered and another 100 or so folks queued outside in the sun.

The protestors ranged from thoughtful, measured folks who had deep misgivings about the project to foul-mouthed moonbats.

The project has drawn a broad coalition of opposition — environmentalists, social-justice activists, anti-police stalwarts and some raise-hell-for-the-cause types. The city’s and APF’s opaqueness during the effort made the effort not hard to criticize.

“Dave Wilkinson is smuggling this project through you all,” said one of the speakers to the council, referring to the APF’s president, who made $500,000 in 2021.

Speakers continually harangued council members, yelling “Shame!” or the “Whole world is watching.”

“You’re either with us, or against us,” said one speaker.

“This is our lunch counter movement,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus.

Many of the speakers have a deep distrust, hatred even, for police and said the training center would unleash menace upon society.

“If Cop City is built, you will kill Black people,” said Kimberly Brooks.

One crowd favorite was Clifton Kelly, a uniformed EMT from DeKalb County Fire, who upped the ante saying that protestor Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran was “murdered,” and that police “will kill again.”



Teran was shot to death in January by state troopers at the site of the training center. Authorities said a gun purchased by Teran was under Teran’s body and a cop was wounded by that gun. Protestors have turned Teran into a martyr, continually chanting “Viva, viva Tortuguita!”

There were several talking points this time ― that police were the fist of white supremacy, that they were getting trained for militarization, that they were modern-day slave catchers.

A new wrinkle was added this time. Police were likened to members of the Israeli military, ready to put their foot on the neck of Black and brown people, as some critics say the latter does to Palestinians.

Councilman Michael Bond jawed back and forth with members of the crowd, who repeatedly called out the memory of his father, civil rights leader Julian Bond. Other members largely remained mute, other than Liliana Bakhtiari, who has long been an opponent of the project. She tried to maintain order as the night rolled on and the crowd grew testy.

A lot of those speaking called themselves members of coalitions, activist groups or political organizations.

Several vowed that backers of the training center would pay politically.

“This will not be soon forgotten,” said one woman. “You will be held accountable.”

Several insisted that police aren’t held in as high regard as council members think.

One speaker, Devin Barrington-Ward, ran for council in 2021 against Councilman Dustin Hillis, who heads the Public Safety Committee. Barrington-Ward made police brutality and funding an issue in that race. He got beat 2-1.

The question is what happens from here?

Protestors at City Hall, both inside the building and outside, chanted, “If you build it, we will burn it.”

Flyers at City Hall called for a “Week of Action” later this month, where those against the training center can make themselves known. “Come for the week, stay for the summer,” it says.

Surely, someone will lend them a couch.

Last time there was a Week of Action, back in March, construction equipment at the training center was flaming.