A plan to construct a $90 million police training center at the South River Forest in Atlanta is facing resistance from residents, who say “Cop City” would threaten the community in more ways than one. Residents say the facility would take away a beloved green space and historic site that plays a crucial role protecting the city from flooding.
“This is going to be the largest urban warfare training facility for police in the country,” said Jasmine Burnett, organizing director of Community Movement Builders, which is supporting resident opposition to the facility. “And, what does that mean when, in 2020, people were actually asking to abolish the police?”
The South River Forest sits on the ancestral homeland of the Muscogee Creek people, who were forcibly removed in the early 19th Century to make way for a slave plantation that became the site of the Jim Crow-era Atlanta Prison Farm, where prisoners were housed as they were forced to conduct free labor on the city’s municipal projects as late as 1990.
The park is on land owned by the City of Atlanta but sits outside its boundaries, in DeKalb County, meaning the primarily Black and Brown residents who live closest to the park have no representation on the City Council that voted 10-4 to approve the police facility.
Residents opposing the facility fear it will only further entrench the racism and environmental injustice that has given Atlanta the highest rate of income inequality in the U.S. and the state of Georgia the fourth-highest rate of incarceration in the world.
“When I was walking through it, the insect sounds, the birds and the heaviness of the air—I know my relatives had that same felt knowledge before removal,” said Laura Harjo, a professor of Native American studies who visited as part of a delegation of Muscogee from Oklahoma. “This has been treated as a carceral space since European contact, and Cop City would be a continuation of that rather than a return to community.”