Hundreds of protesters arrived to the site unarmed and nonviolent. Police declared the protest illegal and responded with full riot gear, tear gas, and rubber bullets.
ATLANTA—On Mon., Nov. 13, around 8 a.m., hundreds of protesters gathered at Gresham Park in Southeast Atlanta to prepare to march in a mass nonviolent direct action at the construction site of “Cop City,” the $90-million police militarization facility being built in Weelaunee Forest. The protest organized today is known as Block Cop City, which was announced after Atlanta officials refused to begin the verification process of 116,000 signatures collected during the Cop City Vote referendum process.
Reports from the ground told Mainline that construction was stopped at the facility for the day, marking today’s action as a success for many in the movement.
[ For more information about the city’s refusal to process signatures, listen to our podcast “From Stop Cop City to Block Cop City: How did we get here?” ]
The march began around 10 a.m. with about 500 people, according to estimates from organizers. Around 10:55 a.m., the march approached a police line of officers dressed in full riot gear. DeKalb County police moved in on the protesters, pressing their shields against the line of protesters that carried a banner that said “Defend Atlanta Forest” and “Defund the Police.” Moments later, police began to shoot rubber bullets and deploy immense amounts of tear gas into the crowd. Officers also threw tear gas canisters into a group of clearly-marked media workers and press. Georgia State Patrol vehicles were also on site.
The escalation against protesters occurred on Constitution Road, just outside the forest where construction workers have begun to pour concrete and have razed dozens of acres of woodland. Sources said it took less than an hour for the police to declare the march illegal.
“Despite numerous stated commitments from religious leaders and city officials to honor the right to protest,” say organizers in their official press release sent to media this evening, “armed riot police terrorized the crowd with tear gas grenades, attack dogs, clubs, and ballistic shields.”
The march paused and temporarily dispersed once police deployed tear gas, declared the protest illegal, and began threatening mass arrests, including journalists. Around 12:30 p.m., the march progressed through the forest on the Intrenchment Creek trail with a “Viva Tortuguita” banner.
There has been a report of one arrest that occurred off-site near the facility, and two other people detained as their cars were being searched nearby. It is unclear if the arrests are related to the protest.
In an official press release from Block Cop City, the atmosphere of the event was a “bold and joyful procession” full of people holding banners and giant puppets accompanied by drummers and a brass band.
“Block Cop City activists reclaimed Atlanta’s rich civil rights legacy from politicians who continue to tarnish it with every voter disenfranchised and each tear gas canister thrown,” organizers say. “Despite the violent response by police, activists minimized arrests and harm through careful planning, extensive preparation, and close attention to lessons learned from generations of revolutionary struggles against repression and authoritarianism.”
Speakers at the march included Block Cop City organizer Sam Beard, founder of local Black liberation organization Community Movement Builders, and Belkis Terán and Joel Paez, parents of Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán, who was violently killed by Georgia police in the forest in January.
“Now is not a time for cowardice,” said Franklin. “You are either with the oppressed or with the oppressors. You are either with the people or the pigs. You cannot stand in the middle. You cannot be on both sides. You cannot close your eyes to the terror of policing that happens in this world.”