Manuel Esteban Paez Terán was killed by police at the site of the planned Cop City. (Photo: Gabe Eisen)
What could possibly go wrong with a $90 million, 85-acre police training ground that the community doesn't want? Someone could be killed, and that happened before Atlanta's awful Cop City project has even been built.
The city of Atlanta, Georgia is often presented as a “Mecca” for Black people. Every mayor of that city who has held office since 1974 has been Black, and celebrities have made it their home. Major Historically Black Colleges and Universities are located there. Atlanta is thought of as a place where Black people thrive.
Except it is like every other major American city, where Black people are more likely to be low wage workers or among the unhoused. The Black people in leadership positions are allowed to occupy them precisely because they have taken a pledge not to upset the established political order.
These caveats must be kept in mind when discussing the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, known popularly as Cop City. The purported Black Mecca municipality is spending $30 million to construct an 85-acre militarized police training camp in the Weelaunee Forest. Cop City will feature a mock town with a gas station, bank, bar, nightclub, school, residential homes, apartments, park, and splash pad. There will also be a warehouse on site for training in “crowd control.” A survey of area residents indicates that 98% of them are opposed to the facility which will be constructed by the Atlanta Police Foundation. The Foundation has pledged to raise an additional $60 million for the project from corporate donors.
The impetus for this theft of public land and training ground for brutality began in 2020. In that year millions of people across the country rose up in protest after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. But Atlanta then experienced its own rebellion when police there killed Rayshard Brooks. Brooks was killed by police after an altercation which began when he fell asleep in his car in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Such circumstances are common in police killings which usually happen during traffic stops, mental health crises, and even calls for help. Only one-third of police killings occur during the commission of violent crimes.
Brooks' death created another rebellion, this time in Atlanta itself, which years before was falsely dubbed, the “city too busy to hate.” The response was classic, as the city’s white fathers ordered their Black puppets to crack down and thus the idea for Cop City was born. Its funders are a who’s who of corporate giants including Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Chick-Fil-A, Home Depot, United Parcel Service, Delta airlines, Amazon and Waffle House. All of these entities claim to have some sort of racial equity program and pledge workplace diversity. Some of their CEOs made grand gestures like “taking a knee” in 2020, but when not creating feel good photo opportunities they use police foundations to help fund police departments across the country. These efforts are little more than slush funds which help police departments spend more money without any accountability to the public.
The protests against Cop City also attracted forest defenders, who camped out to save the old growth trees from destruction. But their peaceful protest of civil disobedience was met with brute force. Some of them have been arrested and charged with “domestic terrorism.” But the worst was yet to come. On January 18, 2023 a forest defender named Manuel Esteban Paez Terán was killed by the police.They claim that Paez Terán shot one of them first. But there has been no independent investigation and conveniently none of the police or members of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who raided the protectors’ encampment were wearing body cameras. Cop City is killing people before it even exists.
Of course protests ensued after Paez Terán was killed and there were arrests. Mayor Andre Dickens channeled the segregationists of old when he said, "It should be noted that these individuals were not Atlanta or Georgia residents. Most of them traveled into our city to wreak havoc." The representatives of the Black Mecca have resurrected the old “outside agitator” trope.
Police surveillance in Georgia didn’t start with Cop City. In 2007 the plans for what is now Operation Shield were put in place. More than 10,000 video cameras and license plate readers make Atlanta the most surveilled city in the country and one of the most surveilled in the world. Corporate funders to the Atlanta Police Foundation paid for this hyper policing too.
Cop City shows the nexus between oligarchic control, the police state, and their errand girls and boys in the Black political class. The end result of their dirty dealing is the Cop City monstrosity. Police don’t need a training center. They are already trained. They know quite well that their job is to keep Black people under physical control and lock them up as often as possible. A mock town teaching riot control is the last thing Black people need. Haphazard brutality would be transformed into an efficient and well oiled machine.
Obviously Cop City should be opposed, but so should corporate control over our lives, and treacherous Black faces in high places. There will surely be more killings if Cop City becomes a reality.
Margaret Kimberley is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents. You can support her work on Patreon and also find it on the Twitter and Telegram platforms. She can be reached via email at margaret.kimberley(at)blackagendareport.com.