Protesters take to the streets against so-called ‘Cop City’ police training facility


(ATLANTA) — Protesters in Atlanta say they are hoping to reignite the energy from the 2020 racial reckoning during a rally they are calling their National Day of Action Against Police Terror on Thursday.

Across the country, anti-police brutality and racial justice activist groups will be hosting marches, teach-ins, and demonstrations against what they say is the militarization of police forces at the in-construction Atlanta Public Safety Training Center that critics are calling “Cop City.”

To culminate a weekslong effort, organizers will be holding a rally and march Thursday at 6 p.m. at the King Center, a center focused on nonviolent civil disobedience, in Atlanta.

Protesters argue the facility is “supporting the police narrative as opposed to finding alternatives to [policing]. Less people with guns, more actually interacting with the community,” Kamau Franklin, founder of Community Movement Builders and one of the lead organizers of #StopCopCity, told ABC News.

The #StopCopCity campaign is an effort to try and disrupt the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which will be used for specialized training for both law enforcement and fire department service workers.

The center will include an “auditorium for police/fire and public use,” a “mock city for burn building training and urban police training,” an “Emergency Vehicle Operator Course for emergency vehicle driver training,” a K-9 unit kennel and training, according to the center’s website. The first phase of the training center is scheduled to open in late 2023.

The facility is intended to “boost morale, retention and recruitment of our public safety personnel” as well as “give us physical space to ensure that our officers and firefighters are receiving 21st century training, rooted in respect and regard for the communities they serve,” according to former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The facility was approved last year with widespread support from local lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, and across all racial and ethnic lines.

But groups including the Movement for Black Lives, Black Voters Matter, Community Movement Builders and others are calling on Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens to “end the lease with Atlanta Police Foundation,” the organization behind the facility. The organization’s board members include representatives from major corporations, banks and companies.

Dickens recently created a community task force “to seek further community input and expert recommendations on key issues” amid the unrest, according to a press release from his office.

The training site has been at the center of yearslong tension between police and protesters.

Demonstrators argue that the center is further militarizing the police and may lead to more instances of police brutality and violence.

“Training is a misnomer,” Franklin said, pointing to the hundreds of hours of training that police convicted in murders are required to have received.

“We’ll continue to uplift and talk about the people who’ve been murdered by the police in the Black community, and how policing doesn’t work,” Franklin said.

Other demonstrators argue that the center’s construction will take over parts of the Weelaunee Forest, which Franklin says is “one of the most significant urban forests in the U.S., which borders a Black working-class neighborhood in Southeast Atlanta.”

Criticism over the new facility began initially with concerns that the city would need to tear down trees in one of Atlanta’s largest remaining green spaces. Across the city, signs that read “Defend the Atlanta Forest” sprung up in yards. The environmentalist movement Defend the Atlanta Forest is one of the groups leading protests against the facility.

The center is expected to cost $90 million and take up over 85 acres, with the “remaining portion of the 265-acres property as greenspace,” according to the center’s website.

Tensions came to a head with the fatal police shooting of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán in January, who was shot and killed by police as they raided the campground occupied by environmental demonstrators who had allegedly been camping out for months to protect the forest.

Officials say the protester fired the first shot at a state trooper, who was injured. Other law enforcement officers returned fire, hitting the man. There is no body camera footage of the incident. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident.

On March 5, more than 30 people were arrested after authorities say a group of “agitators” launched an attack on officers using fireworks, large rocks and Molotov cocktails following a music festival.

Twenty-three of the 35 protesters arrested Sunday were charged with felony domestic terrorism. Most of those protesters were from out of state, and one was from Canada and another from France.

No officers were injured during the incident, though police said that “the illegal actions” of protesters “could have resulted in bodily harm.” According to representatives from the racial justice organizations, the incident was not connected to the music festival and demonstration being held nearby.

The mayor’s office and the Atlanta Police Foundation has not responded to ABC News’ requests for comment. Atlanta Police officials directed ABC News to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which declined to comment.

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