The ongoing controversy over 40 acres of Intrenchment Creek Park (ICP), a beautiful forested public park that DeKalb County swapped to Blackhall Movie Studio for 52 acres of clear-cut land, which is a big pile of red dirt.
South River Watershed Alliance filed a lawsuit to stop the swap, citing the covenant that wills the property to be held as a public park in perpetuity for the benefit and use of the public. The lawsuit cites other violations.
But that did not stop former Blackhall CEO Ryan Millsap, who showed up at the park with a contractor and an excavator early Saturday morning, July 30. Two DeKalb police officers also arrived at the park.
The police removed the Weelaunee People’s Park sign and told people they had one hour to remove their cars or be towed.
According to people at the scene, the machine operator attempted to remove the gazebo where people were sitting. He struck the gazebo’s roof and dug a hole in the sidewalk.
I arrived around 9:30 AM and found the entrance to Weelaunee Park blocked by junk to prevent the police or anyone from re-entering, the truck destroyed, and the driver and Millsap gone. Five or six DeKalb police cars were parked at the fire station one block away,
About 50 anonymous Forest Defenders dressed in black and camouflage were gathered in the parking lot and sitting on the barricade to the park. They mysteriously show up to defend the forest when the forest is threatened. They are like antibodies that protect your body from invaders like bacteria, viruses, and toxins and remove the invaders from our bodies.
In May this year, the Muscogees had a two-day conference at ICP to end the history of violence and racism in the Weelaunee forest. At that conference, they compared the Forest Protectors to the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, who stood up against the Dakota Pipeline.
Around 11 AM, the police left the area, and most of the Forest Defenders disappeared back into the forest.
ANOTHER POLICE INCIDENT THAT HAPPENED EARLIER AT ICP
On July 15, DeKalb County Police officers, obviously at the request of Blackhall, built concrete barricades at the park’s entrance so cars could not enter. They also took down the ICP sign, posted “Park Closed No Trespassing,” and posted “Private Property” along the public park trails.
People who use the park daily removed the barricade so people could once again drive into the park. They removed the police posts and renamed the park “Weelaunee People’s Park” to honor the Muscogee people who lived here and called this forest Weelaunee. They were forced on the Trail of Tears with other tribes and walked to Oklahoma.
This swap is illegal for many reasons, and the South River Watershed Alliance and South River Forest Coalition filed a lawsuit to stop the swap.
According to the lawsuit, the land exchange represents an unlawful conversion of public parkland to private use. It violates the conditions imposed via deed on ICP, which may be enforced by any member of the general public who utilizes the Park.
The ICP was established around 2003 with the support of the Trust for Public Land and the Arthur Blank Family Foundation with the understanding that the property would be held as a public park in perpetuity for the benefit and use of the public.
The covenant states how the park is to be used and how it can not be used. It says that the park property shall not be used by commercial, industrial, residential, or municipal (i.e., fire stations, police stations, libraries). It is to be used as a public park permanently for the benefit and use of the public.
THIS IS NOT A LOCAL STRUGGLE
Some of the Forest Defenders are not from Atlanta or Georgia because the issues that intersect this forest are climate change and police violence which can be found everywhere.
The Streets of Atlanta Interviewed two anonymous Forest Defenders about their vision for the forest and opposition to Copy City.
“I would like to see the forest as a free and liberated space as a symbol of community and a dedication to our protection of forests. I would like to see a portion of it deeded back to the Muscogee people who were forcibly removed from this land and never gave it up. I think the continuation of free resources, mutual aid, spaces for love, art, and music is how the forest should stay.”
“This is going to be the largest police facility ever built. I know my folks will be endangered because the police in my city will train at this facility. This is a national fight, and I am here because I oppose the police state and all the forces of domination and authority,” a female Forest Defender told the Streets of Atlanta.
A male Forest Defender said, “I think this [forest] constitutes an autonomous zone, free from police violence, and a place for experimentation and human cohabitation with nature. It’s a place for restoration and healing to exchange ideas and learn how to live together and care for each other’s needs. That is a beautiful vision for how life can be.”
“Cop City is the intersection of climate justice and police abolition. Building this facility would represent both an attack on the forest and the flood water management and all these environmental issues as well as an attack on communities of color and poor people who are systematically attacked by the police.”
The Forest Defenders go where the need is greatest to protect forests that give us oxygen, shade, flood control, and many other gifts that help us survive in a time of climate change.
All the people I have talked with over the past several years have a few things in common. They all want the forest to remain a green space and are concerned about climate change and environmental issues. They are aware that minority communities are the targets of police violence and worry about the continued militarization of the police evolving into a police state.
THE SHOW GOES ON
Saturday, July 30, was the end of a week of action with events and workshops on environmental issues, abortion & autonomy, plant walks, protest songs, and a free music festival to Stop Cop City.
After all the morning chaos with the police and Blackhall, then an intense thunderstorm in the afternoon, the music festival continued into the night with music and song celebrating nature and each other. This generation will not be stopped by anything.
written and photos by gloria tatum