OPINION: Training center opponents swamp City Hall once again

Protesters gather at Atlanta City Hall to protest proposed police training center

Protesters gather at Atlanta City Hall to protest proposed police training center

You must hand it to the “No Cop City” crowd and their ability to deliver bodies to Atlanta City Hall.

On Monday, the line of people opposing the city’s proposed police training center ran throughout the building, ending up with nearly 300 people signed up to address the City Council. Thankfully, only about half of them actually spoke. The word “marathon” could be used here, as in a eight-hour harangue.

I endured about six hours and more than 100 speakers before saying, “OK, OK, I get it.”

The talking points revolved around three themes:

1. Cops are scary.

2. Mother Nature is getting defiled.

3. The $30 million being spent by the city could be better used.

The day’s — and night’s — effort was the latest in the two-year-campaign to dissuade the city from constructing an 85-acre, $90 million public training center in DeKalb County just outside the city’s southeastern limits. The other $60 million being spent comes from the Atlanta Police Foundation.

The crowd showed up after news of the meeting bounced around the left-wing Twitterverse. Activists, who skewed youngish and white, repeatedly told the relatively mute council members they were betraying the public trust, kowtowing to corporate interests (and fascism) and can look forward to being voted out.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens reacts as former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young speaks about the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center at a press conference in front of Atlanta City Hall on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

On Monday, the council was starting the process of spending $30 million toward the facility. A final vote should come next month.

The board approved the deal by a 10-4 vote in September 2021 after listening to 17 hours of taped calls, about 70% against the facility. It is being built on the site of the city’s old prison farm, an area that for decades has been the Atlanta Police Department’s gun range.

The 85 acres is part of a 300-plus-acre tract owned by the city and part of a huge swath of contiguous forest and river land that’s considered to be prime green space for the region. It has also been the site of numerous protests, vandalism, arrests and the death of a protestor. Land at the heavily guarded site has been cleared of vegetation in recent weeks.

The James M. Cox Foundation, the charitable arm of Cox Enterprises which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has contributed to the training center fundraising campaign. It is among several Atlanta-based foundations that have contributed.

During Monday’s meeting, more than two dozen speakers noted their council district to push back against the idea they were “outside agitators,” a term repeatedly mentioned. City officials have noted most of those arrested have been out-of-staters. Two months ago, I determined that a total of 48 protestors have been arrested and charged with crimes; just five were Georgians and three were Black.

No one in officialdom has mentioned “outside agitators,” other than protestors. It’s an attempt to make those supporting the project look like Bull Connor and activists like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Local prosecutors have charged many of those arrested with domestic terrorism, which seems a bit much in several cases. But local officials are frustrated and really, really mad at the protestors and their antics.

Those speaking Monday employed just about every emotional argument imaginable.

DeKalb and Atlanta SWAT members leaving from Gresham Park command post. Georgia state troopers helping conduct a "clearing operation" at the site of Atlanta's planned public safety training center exchanged gunfire with a protester on Jan. 18, 2023, leaving the protester dead and one trooper wounded, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. (John Spink/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

One is that police officers are killers, out on the streets to hunt down Black men. Here’s the reality:

CDC records say 13,780 Black people were homicide victims in 2020. A Washington Post databank said 242 Black people were killed by police in 2020 (or 1.8% of the homicides that year.) Eighteen of them were unarmed.

Those same sources say 9,968 whites were homicide victims that year, 459 killed by police — or 4.6%.

Several speakers mentioned Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, who was shot to death by police in January as they cleared the area of protestors. Teran was killed in a tent after allegedly shooting first at officers and wounding one. Authorities say a 9 mm handgun, that records show Teran bought, was found in the tent, as well as gunpowder residue on one hand.

If Teran indeed fired a shot against such an overwhelming force, it would have been suicidal. “Tortuguita” has since become a martyr of the movement.

A handful of speakers aimed their ire at Black elected officials, suggesting they were traitors to the race. One derided an elderly Black preacher by name for being appointed to a mayoral advisory board on the training center, admittedly somewhat of a fig leaf for the city. Another speaker, the Rev. Keyanna Jones, disparaged Atlanta’s mayor as “Andre Sellout Dickens.”

Speaker after speaker said hiring more police — and even training them better — is no way to stop crime. They say the $30 million would be better spent on things like increased school funding (city money can’t be used for schools), more affordable housing, targeting homelessness, creating more parks, better bus shelters and reparations.

Many noted the clear-cutting of the already weedy Cop City site would hasten global warming.

Numerous speakers mentioned “Weelaunee Forest,” as the sacred grounds of the Muscogee Creek tribe, almost as if city officials and their murderous cops were once again mistreating them.

Interesting, I can find no mention of “Weelaunee Forest” online before last year, when some clever activists drafted Native American imagery into their cause.

I suppose anywhere you look in Atlanta could be called sacred indigenous land, including where many of those protestors live.