Why #StopCopCity Has Lasting Implications for Environmental and Social Activists Everywhere

Image from Stop Cop City Solidarity

This past week, thousands have gathered from across the country to join the community defending Atlanta and its Weelaunee forest from the construction of “Cop City” – a massive 85-acre, $90 million urban warfare police training facility. Protests have come to a head after a Georgia State Trooper shot and killed forest defender Manuel (Tortuguita) Terán on January 18th. This fight lies at the intersections of numerous issues: police expansion and violence, dirty corporate money, racial injustice, and of course, environmental destruction. The movement to stop Cop City is of critical importance, and will have lasting implications for environmental activists across the country – including here in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

The Impact of COP City on the Environment

COP City is set to be built on over 300 acres of unceded Muscogee Creek land, parts of which were used as a prison farm for the majority of the 20th century and as a police shooting range in the last few decades. The development of this facility will result in the destruction of dozens of acres of trees and habitat in the Weelaunee forest, which is sometimes called “The Lungs of Atlanta,” due to its critical role in reducing the urban heat island, removing air and water pollutants, and filtering stormwater (thus reducing flood risks). Atlanta’s urban tree canopy is crucial to the city’s resiliency in the face of climate change, but has been declining every year, even without the construction of Cop City. With it, the environmental impacts will be disastrous for the local community and ecosystem. 

The Intersection of Environmental and Social Justice Issues

The site of Cop City is located in a part of Atlanta that already houses a juvenile detention facility, women’s prison, and as mentioned above, a police shooting range. The communities in Atlanta, specifically the Black communities, are already some of the most policed and the most surveilled in the country. Past endeavors of the Atlanta Police Foundation, whose board notably hosts San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and other bad climate actors, resulted in 11,000 surveillance cameras in Atlanta and SWAT equipment and assault rifles for the police department. The construction of Cop City will only increase the police presence in Black neighborhoods, as its stated intent is to recruit and maintain higher numbers in Atlanta’s police force. This project directly defies the calls from Atlanteans and people across the country to stop investing in the police and begin investing in effective community health and safety programs. 

Growing Trends: Militarization, Criminalization

The Stop Cop City movement is bringing to light chilling patterns of the increased militarization of police, alongside the increased criminalization of environmental activists. Since December, Georgia law enforcement has arrested around 55 people, 43 of whom have been charged with domestic terrorism. Of those numbers, 35 or so were arrested on the evening of March 6th, and many were only present for the family-friendly music festival happening on the other side of the forest as a more escalated conflict. These arrests were made with brutal, militaristic force – reports of tackling, tasing, and direct verbal threats of violence pervaded concert-goers’ accounts. 

The Atlanta Police Foundation, thanks to unchecked funding from massive corporations like Wells Fargo, has “donated” SWAT equipment to Atlanta police, including military grade weapons, drones, and tactical gear for performing raids. When police have this equipment, they treat nonviolent demonstrators as an invading army – how will they act once they’ve trained in Cop City’s planned model city to practice urban warfare? 

An independent autopsy requested by Tortuguita’s family has indicated that their hands were raised and they were likely sitting in a cross-legged position when they were shot many times by multiple officers. Authorities claim Tortuguita shot first, but there is no body cam footage, and the Georgia Bureau of Intelligence has not released the investigative report with any evidence. 

The treatment and charging of environmental activists as domestic terrorists is part of a growing trend of limiting the right to protest: 39 states have enacted some legislation to restrict rights of peaceful assembly since 2017. Many of these include expanding the definition of and fines for protesting near “critical infrastructure” to include oil and gas sites, thanks to Fossil Fuel companies. Raising the legal stakes of protesting to absurd degrees is a tactic made to dissuade participation in the movement or related actions as well as create a negative public image of protest efforts. Threats to protest rights anywhere are threats to protest rights here.

The Importance of Solidarity

While Cop City is being built across the country, we have an important role to play at home here in the Bay Area. Firstly, spreading awareness about what’s been going on, the treatment of activists in Atlanta, and who is funding it is incredibly important, especially to combat the one-sided narrative being offered by Georgia law enforcement and many news outlets. The ‘Defend the Atlanta Forest’ movement is calling for cutting ties and calling on investors and builders of the project to pull out – especially those with business in our cities. There is also a legal support fund for the activists in Atlanta who have been arrested on overblown charges. 

Join us tomorrow, March 15th, at 4pm for the Bay Area’s solidarity action with Atlanta Forest Defenders. The group will be meeting on the north side of 4 Embarcadero Center in San Francisco. Part of this event will be growing the community of people who believe there should be No Cop City there, or anywhere. As activists fighting for environmental and social justice, we must defend our own communities, as well, from infringements of police systems and restrictions on our right to take action.