City Hall Listens To Money, Not the Public On Cop City

The South Atlanta Forest, also called Weelaunee Forest, is where so many issues converge, environmental, human rights, racial justice, environmental racism, gentrification, the militarization of the police, police violence, the expansion of the police state, pollution, criminalizing protest, and climate change. 

People are joining the movement to stop cop city and defend the forest for many different reasons. It is an autonomous decentralized broad movement; everyone can find their issue and plugin.


In 2017 the Atlanta City Council (ACC) voted to include the 385 acres in the Old Prison Farm to be part of a larger three thousand-plus forest acreage with a path to connect all the green spaces and public parks.

Atlanta’s priorities changed in 2020 after a nationwide uprising over the police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Books, and many other unarmed innocent black and brown people. Then mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms wanted to hire more police and boost their low morale by giving them the Old Prison Farm for a new state-of-the-art police training facility that included a mock city. Police were getting bad press, and many started to resign, and this upset city officials.

Bottom’s policy became a reality in September 2021, when the ACC changed their minds and voted to lease the Old Prison Farm property to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a massive $90 million police training facility where police can practice urban warfare and riot control in a mock city.

There was massive resistance right away from neighbor associations, community members, environmentalists, civil rights groups, groups working against gentrification, groups calling out police violence and demanding police accountability, youth organizers, national organizations, abolitionists, environmental justice organizations, anarchists,  professors, teachers, students, indigenous tribes and children to name a few.

Supporters of a new police training facility were Buckhead residents, police, firefighters, and the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is the corporate funding arm of the police department. Buckhead residents and businesses were worried about crime and wanted more police officers, and were planning on forming their own city. 

The Buckhead cityhood movement was a secession movement where wealthy corporate Buckhead interests wanted to secede from the city of Atlanta, take all its tax base with it, and have their own police force. If that happened, It would financially hurt Atlanta.

Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) has on its Board most of the significant corporate CEOs in Atlanta. So APF, police, corporate money, Buckhead, and politicians all worked together to push through the leasing of the Old Prison Farm to the police against the democratic will of the majority of people.

The ACC heard 17 hours of call-in testimony, and 70% were against Cop City, and the other 30%  who supported Cop City were folks from Buckhead, police, and firefighters. ACC ignored people who did not want to destroy the forest and supported Buckhead and APF.

There was loud opposition from the start, which has only grown louder and larger in the past two years. 

Mayor Dickens and ACC knew there was significant opposition to giving the Old Prison Farm land to build Cop City but pushed the legislation through anyway. Because those were the orders that they got from people who have a lot of money and a lot of power.


Kamau Franklin with Community Movement Builders, Micah Herskind, and Tiffany Roberts with the Southern Center for Human Rights explained reasons why people don’t want Cop City during a virtual meeting on Cop City and Atlanta Policing.

“The gentrification of black communities and the use of militarized police have been used as soldiers to go inside communities to chase people down, stop them on the street, and do illegal searches, all under the guise that they are stopping crime or looking for guns or drugs. They are harassing the black community and pushing people around and out of their communities.

Black, brown, and poor communities that have experienced police violence view Cop City not as a facility to fight crime but as the continuing repression of movements that challenge police violence and repression of poor and working-class communities. 

The black and white political elite are tied to the corporate elite who want to make Atlanta a playground for corporations to bring their employees here, drive up housing and rent prices, and displace the poor and working poor who have lived here for generations.

The police are a leading edge in pushing them out. Cop City will expedite that because that will be their role in gentrification and shutting down organizing and movement against police violence,” Franklin said.

The movement to Stop Cop City and Defend the Forest converges with many issues, and all the struggles are connected. 

“The $90 million to build cop city could be better used to keep hospitals open that are closing due to inadequate funding. While the hospitals are closing, more jails are opening. Fulton County plans to build a new jail and reopen the mostly empty downtown Atlanta Detention Center. The expansion of policing combined with the expansion of jails undercut public services like hospitals,” Herskind said.

Franklin points out that the city had no problem giving cop city 30 million dollars but had to be pushed to put about $8 million into the affordable housing plan.

Other people living around the Old Prison Farm have said they prefer grocery stores and restaurants instead of a police training center. They already hear gunshots all the time from a police firing range in that area.

The City of Atlanta and state leadership are engaging in a public relations campaign to make Cop City appear to be a community resource center when it is training police to shoot and kill people. People who have been victims of police violence are not going to a police training facility to receive community service. Who are they trying to fool?

“Police are not the answer. The militarization of the police positions police as warriors, and community members are positioned as enemy combatants. This causes law enforcement to engage people using the rules of engagement that people use in war,” Roberts said.

“There will be a real human cost if Atlanta fails to invest in projects and resources that strengthen our communities. The trauma visited on black, brown, and poor communities cannot be overstated. It will be felt and will reverberate for years,” Robers said.

Atlanta wants more policing and more jails. What happened to Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative (PAD)? 

This cycle of arrest and incarceration does not address the problem people are struggling with. Arresting and jailing people due to substance use, mental health issues, survival activities, protests for justice, or homelessness makes everything worse. Communities need housing options, mental health services, medical care, substance recovery services, and livable wages. That $30 million of city money going to Cop City would be better spent on these community needs. 


Young people from all over the county came to Weelaunee Forest to defend the trees and the forest from destruction during a global climate change crisis. These were educated and ideological 20 and 30-year-olds who were very aware that their generation would suffer the worst consequences of climate change and that they may not have a future.

For two years, they marched, made phone calls, wrote letters, canvassed the neighborhood around the Old Prison Farm, lobbied elected officials, held education events, made an encampment in a public park area of the forest, and built treehouses. The majority were non-violent and practiced civil disobedience, while a few destroyed bulldozers that came into the forest to destroy the trees.

As the Forest Defender gained attention from national media coverage. The police stepped up their violent tactics to get rid of them. It all started to unravel in December 2022. 

Law enforcement started a task force that included the Atlanta Police, Dekalb County Police, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Georgia State Parole, and Homeland Security. All of this police force was directed toward arresting or removing about 30 environmentalists and racial justice people living in the forest. 

December 13, 2022, the police raided the park and forcibly removed forest defenders from treehouses using tear gas and pepper balls and removed some of them at gunpoint. They destroyed the encampment, arrested six people, and charged them with domestic terrorism, aggravated assault, criminal trespass, and other charges.

After Christman, Ryan Millsap, the Hollywood grifter who talked DeKalb County into swapping beautiful forested land for a pile of red dirt, came back to destroy Intrenchment Creek Park. With help from the police, Millsap used heavy equipment to destroy the parking area, the gazebo, and the concert bike/walking path and cut down more trees in violation of a lawsuit and a stop work order.

On January 18, the multi-agency task force of police officers came back to remove everyone from the forest. 

The police shot and killed an environmental activist, Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, known as Tortuguita or Tort. Tortuguita was shot 13 times by different officers. The police said, Tort shot first and wounded a Georgia State Patrol officer.

Memorial to Tort in Weelaunee Forest

Friends and family knew Tort as a non-violent pacifist. Demands for an independent investigation arise from different sources that do not trust the police version. Police said they don’t have a body cam of the shooting, but we know that some law enforcement officers were wearing body cameras.

Seven Forest Defenders were arrested, taken to DeKalb County Jail, and charged with domestic terrorism and other charges.

On January 21, a non-violent march to protest Tort’s murder turned into a riot when a few people broke the windows of the Atlanta Police Foundation and a few banks that fund Cop City. Six more people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism and taken to Rice Street jail.

The more the police try to destroy the movement with violence, unproved charges, and incarceration, the larger the movement grows. 

Written and photos by Gloria Tatum

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