Earlier this year, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms unexpectedly initiated a deal with the Atlanta Police Foundation to lease the old Prison Farm property for a police training center on Key Road in Southeast DeKalb County. Mayor Bottoms’ action violated an existing ordinance and was undemocratic since there was no public input.
Who Gets The Old Prison Farm – Cop City or Greenspace?
In 2017, the Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance to place the old Prison Farm’s 300 plus acres into the charter of the City of Atlanta to be part of the Atlanta City Design, Aspiring to the Beloved Community to be protected in perpetuity as passive green space, for the urban forest and ecological habitat restoration to protect the Intrenchment Creek and South River watersheds
Mayor Bottoms’ action reversed existing public policy and violated Commissioner of Planning, Tim Keane’s plan to connect parks and forest land into a massive green space to be protected from commercial or residential development.
Joining Mayor Bottoms in confiscating this property, Councilmember Joyce Sheperd, District 12, introduced an Ordinance 21-0-0367 to lease all or part of the old Prison Farm to the Atlanta Police Foundation. This ordinance is in direct conflict with the Atlanta City Council’s November 2017 legislative action [Ordinance 17-0-1707} and commitment to protect in-perpetuity the area as green space.
“Investment in a community begins with quality-of-life improvements that come with the preservation of green space. Disinvestment in a community begins with the destruction of green space,” Jacqueline Echols, Board President, South River Watershed Alliance warns in a press release.
Residents Who Live In Southeast Atlanta Tell What They Want
There are many different organizations doing different actions to resist the destruction of the green space at the old Prison Farm.
The South River Forest Coalition (SRFC) comprised of residents, civic, business, neighborhood, and environmental organizations rejects Councilmember Joyce Sheperd ordinance 21-O-0367 to execute a ground lease agreement lease with the Atlanta Police Foundation
“We want the Council to honor their  promise and commitment. Efforts by the Police Foundation to convince residents that this project is good for the community is totally disingenuous,” Joe Peery, a member of the SRFC coalition said in a press release.
The East Atlanta Community Association adopted a resolution in opposition to the location and construction of a public safety training center on the old Prison Farm site. They support the site’s conservation in -perpetuity for greenspace as adopted into the official city charter.
Scott Petersen gives tours of the old Prison Farm and a member of Save The Old Prison Farm, he tells the Streets of Atlanta that this deal, “Looks very clandestine and smells like you scratch my back and I will scratch your back. Bottoms announced the land give-away and a week later said she was not going to run for re-election. People wonder if this is a walking out the back door kickback. It will be hard to get to the truth because they have closed and locked the doors at City Hall.”
“The Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance to build a park here and Commissioner Keane is all in favor of building a park here. But all of a sudden, all this government political movement to build a park has got to be sacrificed because they let the housing infrastructure for the [current] police academy [at Southside Industrial Pkwy] deteriorate so badly through neglect.” Petersen said.
“I believe the future of public land should be determined by the public. We should value our ecosystem in this time of climate change – compromising on that is not an option anymore. We don’t need a police/military country club in this neighborhood. What we need are parks to preserve because once it’s gone it’s gone forever,” Jordon Ososki, a supporter of the forest tells SOA
Survival Resistance tells the Streets of Atlanta why they held a demonstration at the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF). “We created this action to bring attention to the fact that the City of Atlanta called for the APF to build this cop city. Outsourcing it to the APF removed a lot of the mechanism for transparency that there would have been if the city was directly building this training facility. The APF is a non-profit that is funded by corporate leaders and other wealthy individuals.”
Another group, A World Without Police (AWWP), is leafing neighborhoods around the forest with informational leaflets and talking to people in those neighborhoods who for the most part don’t know what is going on. The one exception is the Starlight Heights neighborhood which is well organized.
A few AWWP members stood on the public sidewalk in front of Councilmember Carla Smith’s home, District 1, to ask her to stall the bulldozing of Atlanta’s largest intact forest but she was not at home. So they talked with her neighbors, as they walked their dogs. Some neighbors were unaware that Mayor Bottoms gave the property to the Atlanta Police for a cop city right before she announced she would not run for re-election. Other neighbors recalled the Atlanta City Council voted to keep the largest forest inside the perimeter as greenspace and were disappointed the council may break their promise to the community.
Many residents in southeast Atlanta are outraged at this back-door deal to steal greenspace with no input from the public. Dozens of demonstrations have happened all over the city at Intrenchment Creek Park, Prison Farm, Blackhall Studio, Atlanta Police Foundation, and Councilmember Joyce Sheperd home to name a few.
Other groups that oppose the police training facility on the old Prison Farm property are Save the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, Defend the Forest, Survival Resistance, Sierra Club, Rise Up, The Tree Next Door, Trees Atlanta, Stop the Swap, A World Without Police, Defunding APD Refunding Communities, and too many others to name.
All these organizations and residents want is for the Atlanta City Council to stand by their 2017 promise and commitment to save the old Prison Farm as a park and greenspace.
Cop City Will Creates More Toxins in the Water
Wayne Butler, a researcher, and aquatic ecosystems ecologist wrote an article that was published on Mainlinezine. It warned of the dangers of weapon testing, explosive testing, shooting range, and toxic chemicals that APD will use on the property, contaminating the Urban Farm and South River, which is already contaminated.
All these shooting ranges, weapons, and explosion sites produce heavy metals and other toxic chemicals that are carried by rainwater runoff into a nearby stream that flows into Intrenchment Creek which flows into the South River. These toxins end up in fish and crops that people eat and can cause health problems.
According to Butler’s report on Mainlinezine, a USGS 2009 study found that concentrations of lead, copper, and zinc in Intrenchment Creek and the South River exceeded the Georgia EPD’s water quality standards. These heavy metals can be found in police munitions waste (bullets, shells, and grenades) these samples were collected downstream from an existing shooting range at the old Prison Farm.
Public Safety Committee Meeting, August 9, 2021
The Public Safety Committee meeting to vote on Councilmember Joyce Shepherd’s Ordinance 21-0-0367 listened to four hours of public comments.
All the public “yes” votes for the police training center were concerned about crime. All the people who identified themselves as living in Buckhead were also concerned about crime.
The public “no” votes were concerned about the environment, climate change, toxins from explosions and ammunition getting into the creek and river, not enough public input from citizens living in the southeast Atlanta area, and police violence toward minorities.
The no group was concerned about the over-militarization of the police, the killing of unarmed people of color, and that this behavior should not be rewarded with more money and a new police training center. Others felt the money would be better spent to address underlying conditions that create crime such as poverty, addiction, inequality, loss of jobs, homelessness, mental illness, and that social problems are better addressed with social services, not the police.
A few suggested that since Buckhead was having such a crime wave and the residents were so frightened, the police training center should be built in Buckhead, not southeast Atlanta where it would destroy the largest greenspace in Atlanta.
Other people suggested it would be cheaper to repair the current police academy and allow police to continue their education at Atlanta Metropolitan College.
There were approximately 40 more no votes than yes votes.
The Public Safety Committee voted 6 to 1 to pass the legislation on to the Finance Committee. Councilmember Carla Smith was the only no vote, probably because she lives in that area and is aware it is not popular with people who actually live in southeast Atlanta.
Climate Change Is Real – Don’t Make It Worse By Cutting Down More Trees
This year there have been so many weather catastrophes with megadroughts, megafires in the U.S., and megafloods in Europe and it’s not even hurricane season yet. The destruction worldwide is almost Biblical.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor map, 11 western states are experiencing extreme drought conditions.
As of July 28, the National Interagency Fire Center’s report listed a total of 37,009 wildfires that had burned 3.4 million acres across the U.S. Of these fires 81 are large wildfires raging in13 states across the U.S. burning more than 1 million acres mostly in western states that are experiencing droughts.
For the first time in recorded history, the Great Salt Lake, depleted by drought, hits its lowest water level. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are also at historic low levels. 40 million people depend on these two reservoirs for water.
Severe heatwaves across Western states make June the hottest on record. Washington State hit 108 degrees and Oregon 117 degrees for the first time in recorded history.
The United Nations calls the climate crisis a ‘code red for humanity’ with the worst climate impacts to come.
Atlanta will need all the trees it has, and more to survive record-shattering heat waves that are coming to Georgia in the near future. Don’t sell out the future for a police training facility that can be located where it does not destroy the largest greenspace inside the perimeter of Atlanta.
Written and photos by Gloria Tatum