Following city council’s vote to authorize a lease agreement of 381 acres of forest to Atlanta Police Foundation, demonstrators demand corporate sponsors divest from APF, the foundation be dissolved, and the Cop City lease agreement cancelled
This article was originally published on Oct. 21, 2021.
ATLANTA — On Sat., Oct. 23, local advocates plan to lead a march across the city to protest the construction of a new police training and militarization facility being pushed by the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF). The new facility, nicknamed “Cop City” among local activists as a nod to the facility’s plans to have a mock city for police to train in, was green-lighted by Atlanta City Council on Sept. 8 in a 10-4 vote despite major opposition amongst Atlanta and DeKalb County residents.
Council authorized the City of Atlanta to issue a ground lease with APF for 381 acres of urban forest located in unincorporated DeKalb County after listening to 17 hours of public comment calls with 70% of callers opposing the facility. The land was originally inhabited by Muscogee Creek Nation tribes before they were forcibly removed by colonial genocide; it was then sold in a land lottery to a plantation owner for chattel slavery. The land eventually became owned by the City of Atlanta and operated as a prison farm until 1985, and was decommissioned in 1995. The lease agreement sells the land to APF for $10 a year.
“To be clear—’Cop City’ is not just a controversial training center,” says Community Movement Builders organizer Jamal Taylor in an official press statement. “It is a war base where police will learn military-like maneuvers to kill Black people and control our bodies and movements. The facility includes shooting ranges, plans for bomb testing, and will practice tear gas deployment. They are practicing how to make sure poor and working class people stay in line. So when the police kill us in the streets again, like they did to Rayshard Brooks in 2020, they can control our protests and community response to how they continually murder our people.”
Two-thirds of the $90 million facility is being bankrolled by corporate funders and private donors of APF—which includes Atlanta Journal-Constitution parent company Cox Enterprises, Verizon, Equifax, Delta, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Loudermilk Family Foundation, among many others—while the remainder of the price tag is to be paid in public dollars. Its site for construction is planned in South River Forest, an area primarily surrounded by low-income Black communities who overwhelmingly oppose the facility. In a recent survey by Social Insights Research, 98% of local participants oppose the facility being built in the area, while 90% oppose a facility being built anywhere at all.
According to the Saporta Report, in the City’s same-day notice council meeting of a Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee on Oct. 12, Starlight Heights community member Nicole Morado said the timeline for the facility seems “too rushed, especially knowing this process is going to be here for decades and decades and decades.” Prior to the council’s vote to authorize the facility, no community members were present on the advisory council. Official documents obtained by The Mainline show Chief Operating Officer Jon Keen formed an advisory council consisting exclusively of police department and foundation heads (including police foundation CEO and president Dave Wilkinson), fire department and foundation heads, and other city employees.
Construction of the facility would require deforestation of what scientists have called the city’s greatest defense against climate change, therefore placing residents in severe risk of climate change disaster. The Mainline has reported a research report revealing that toxic chemicals present in the land and further contamination will expose the public to other health and safety risks. The plans for this facility would make it the largest police training facility in the U.S., outranking both New York and Los Angeles police training facilities which are 32 acres and 21 acres, respectively. While NYPD and LAPD rank in the top three largest police departments in the country, Atlanta’s ranks 19th.
According to an official press release sent to local media, the march will begin at APF’s headquarters located at 191 Peachtree St. N.E. and will end at the Bank of America located on 600 W Peachtree St. N.W. Demonstrators are reportedly demanding that “corporations divest from APF and redirect and invest funds into community care; that APF be dissolved so as to fully cease harms inflicted on Black and marginalized communities; and that APF’s lease in South River Forest be immediately cancelled.” The march is planned on the heels of the release of Police Foundations: A Corporate-Sponsored Threat to Democracy and Black Lives, a new report from Color of Change that outlines the harms caused by police foundations on Black people in America.
According to the report, APF has received millions of dollars in donations from Atlanta-based corporations like Coca-Cola and Bank of America to fund police surveillance, military-grade equipment, and other policing tools used to terrorize Black and brown people. Since Color of Change released its groundbreaking report, it’s been announced that Coca-Cola stepped down from APF’s board of trustees earlier this year.