At Georgia Conservation Voters, we work every day to organize and empower communities to advance a more just and sustainable future, and hold elected officials across Georgia accountable for their actions and votes. With that in mind, the proposed construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in the Weelaunee Forest is an environmental injustice. We stand against its construction in the majority-Black community of DeKalb County.
Since 2021, an overwhelming number of Atlanta residents have criticized proposals from the Atlanta Police Foundation and Atlanta City Council to destroy almost 400 acres of forest to construct a police training facility, which opponents say will fuel police militarization and urban warfare. It is well known that Atlanta’s trees are one of our most valuable assets and we’re losing our canopy at the rate of close to half an acre each day.
The proposed site for “Cop City” is in the midst of an old-growth forest that has prevented flooding, preserved the soil and helped shade our city during heat waves for years. Old-growth forests are vital to helping prevent the worst effects of climate change and are an irreplaceable natural resource that takes centuries to establish. Their unique ecosystems deeply connect all living organisms and are homes for countless species of plants and animals that may not be found elsewhere.
Additionally, we must take into consideration the people who live around the proposed complex. Most residents living around the Weelaunee Forest are Black, which is essential when considering the impact this construction is bound to cause. It is immoral and negligent to proceed in a community that explicitly rejects the proposed construction.
Recently, protests against the facility escalated into the tragic death of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán (who went by the name Tortuguita). Tortuguita was an activist defending the Weelaunee Forest and was killed by police during an operation to remove protestors from the forest on January 18th, 2023. GCV sends our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Tortuguita and others who were harmed by the violence last week.
This tragedy could have been entirely avoided. Activists, organizers, and countless residents spoke out during public comment sessions at Atlanta City Council meetings, held demonstrations and protests, sent emails, made phone calls and asked Atlanta’s elected leaders to stop the project from moving forward. They were largely ignored. The lack of dialogue left many community members and activists to feel that there were no other avenues to express their long-held frustrations. Violence is not the answer, but neither is the militarization of our police in direct opposition to the needs and desires of our communities and the environment.
The Atlanta City Council, Mayor, and Atlanta Police Foundation have failed their constituents by moving forward with the project. Our elected officials still have the opportunity to listen to their constituents and honor their requests. We call on the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Dickens to use their power to find a way to peacefully and equitably resolve this issue, prioritizing our community’s safety and the preservation of the forest.
Finally, we want to highlight the hard work and sacrifices that groups like Stop Cop City have made leading the opposition against this facility. We stand in solidarity with them and other groups who are taking the stand to protect Georgians, their communities and the environment from unnecessary harm.