Lessons from Cop City




You have likely heard of Cop City and the corresponding “Stop Cop City” movement in Atlanta, Georgia. However, you may have wondered what exactly are the details of this project and the campaign to stop it? How is the ruling class forcing this project into reality? What can we learn from the fight against Cop City?  

What Is Cop City?

Cop City is the popular name for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center being built. The compound will span a massive 85 acres with training facilities, dormitories, a gun range, and a mock city for trainees to practice quelling an urban riot. Hundreds more acres of the surrounding Welaunee Forest will be affected by water pollution and planned pyrotechnics involving mock-fires and explosions. Like all of Atlanta, the Muscogee Nation are the original inhabitants of the Welaunee Forest, but they were forced off their land in the early 19th century. Since then, the land has a sordid history first as a prisoner of war camp in 1917, then as a Jim Crow Atlanta Prison Farm, and finally as a dumping site for tires and industrial waste. Now one of the last major greenspaces in Atlanta is to become a training ground for suppressing the next wave of mass protests in this country. There are only four such areas in the Atlanta metro – the “four lungs” as environmentalists call them – and Welaunee is the only “lung” in a majority black and working class neighborhood. It is estimated that building Cop City will warm the nearby community by 10 degrees. 

The entire complex was projected to cost some $90 million with a third of that coming from the city of Atlanta and the rest from a $10 million federal grant and private donations. Those cost projections have spiraled upwards as the city’s expected contribution rose first to $90 million and now $110 million which the city council attributes to rising insurance costs due to massive protests against Cop City. Uncompetitive, opaque bidding processes for contractors likely contributes to this price spiral though as the non-profits managing the construction of Cop City have admitted to hiring firms based on their private donations to the Atlanta Police Foundation. Graft and authoritarianism fit neatly together. Non-profits have also helped launder massive amounts of money on behalf of the city. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated by Delta, Coca Cola, Chick-fil-A, Bank of America, AT&T, and other major corporations. New Georgia state laws make these donations tax deductible and will represent a shift of $75 million from the tax base to the police, with only the oversight of the mega rich. This is part of a pattern of privatizing the police to more tightly bind them to elite interests. For example, the non-profit Atlanta Police Foundation draws its funds from corporate donors based in Atlanta and alone pays for 10% of the city police budget compared to a national average of 0.4%. The city openly describes the Atlanta Police Foundation as a partner in managing the city and designing policy for its police. 

In its original proposal, Cop City was listed as a potential source of revenue for Atlanta as some “43%” of enrollees would come from outside the Atlanta area. In addition to Georgia state police and other US police forces, foreign police and military forces will be able to use Cop City to practice suppressing their own people. A top anticipated client is the Israeli Defence Force. This makes Cop City an ideological as well as physical neighbor to the infamous School of the Americas in Fort Moore, Georgia where Cold Warriors from Latin America were trained to commit war crimes against their own people in the fight against communism. 

How Did This Happen?

Cop City was first announced by Atlanta’s city government in September 2021. Nominally to address a police shortage and inferior training facilities, Cop City’s larger purpose was clear from the start. It is designed to help US state power reassert control after the 2020 George Floyd Uprising. Police forces around the country, including Atlanta, found themselves incapable of suppressing multiracial working class protestors to the extent that capitalists would prefer. Cop City is meant to be the birthplace of the ruling class’ newfound control.

From its announcement, Cop City has faced fierce opposition in Atlanta. Some 70% of public testimony at City Council meetings in this time was opposed to the project. Protestors have been carrying out civil disobedience campaigns to occupy the forest, sabotage construction equipment, and protests against corporate donors. When the city council approved millions in additional funding for the spiraling costs of Cop City this past June, Atlanta residents organized a campaign to use the city’s little-used referendum option. The city required them to get 58,000 signatures in a six month period or forfeit the campaign. So, the organizers got 116,000 signatures for a referendum in four months instead. Then the city denied the signatures due to formatting. When this was repaired, the city instituted a new rule that all petition signatures must match voter registration signatures to be valid. When it became clear that the vast majority of the signatures would cross this threshold, the city used a lawsuit by nearby rural residents who oppose Cop City as an excuse to say that a referendum could not be held on the project because it was under litigation. Of course this ongoing lawsuit has not stopped the city from continuing construction. 

The city, with aid from President Biden’s FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has responded with a disquieting level of violence and persecution. Police routinely carry out raids against protestors, organizers in their homes, and organizations that provide legal aid or raise bail funds on behalf of protestors. On January 18th, 2023, police shot and killed forest defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán over 50 times at a campsite in a nearby public park claiming self defense. The State of Georgia declined to prosecute the troopers who killed him. These troopers were also not wearing body-cams, and body-cam footage from other agencies is being withheld. Sixty-one Stop Cop City activists have been indicted for violating Georgia’s RICO act, and some 42 of them also have pending domestic terrorism charges. That number rises to 61 if you include conspiracy charges. Ominously, the government arrested organizers for raising bail funds for those accused. This action violates at least two core components of the Constitution: it presumes guilt rather than innocence of the accused, and it criminalizes people by association. On February 6th, the state legislature passed a law requiring cash bail for these charges. The city has put up 450 billboard ads offering $200,000 for information that leads to the arrest of protestors. 

At the moment, so much of the forest has been destroyed that organizers are now talking about the need to rebuild rather than rescue the ecosystem. Municipal, state, and federal authorities run by Democrats and Republicans alike have all activated every tool the government has to criminalize all opposition including extrajudicial execution. 

What Does This Mean?

There are several important lessons that Socialists should learn from this process. Cop City is representative of every major social and political trend that this country (and much of the world) will face this century. A nominally democratic government beholden to capitalist interests is destroying the ecosystem of the working class to build a better, more efficient privatized police force. Opposition to this is treated as nothing less than terrorism and the full powers of post-9/11 America are wielded against unarmed protestors and their legal defenders. An already racialized system of capitalist oppression evolves into a more starkly eco-fascist state with the window dressings of a non-partisan city council. 

First, Socialists should not be fooled by the credentials or branding of liberals in local government. Take a look through the Atlanta City Council page, and you will find a highly educated, racially diverse, majority non-white, non-profit veteran, pro-diversity pool of leaders. However, none of these elected officials are compromising their values to support Cop City; Cop City is the full expression of their liberal values. They take a “public-private partnership” approach to government which is nothing more than selling off government services to be administered by unaccountable corporations and mega donors who line their pockets at the expense of the public. We are watching a similar scandal unfold in the Feed Our Future case in the Twin Cities where the state sold off the privilege of feeding hungry children to non-profits that skimmed a fortune off the top thanks to their political connections. The only difference is that Cop City will be the training grounds for the black boots of tomorrow. 

Second, organizing against Cop City has kept leftwing politics alive and well in Atlanta in the Biden era. This is a noteworthy accomplishment. Before October 7th, 2023, most DSA chapters and other leftwing orgs in the country saw a decline in membership and participation as the Left lost much of its organizing clarity with Trump’s temporary defeat. Organizing against Cop City brings in an intersection of working people passionate about environmentalism, racial justice, police abolition, anti-imperialism, and democracy. This is the winning coalition that TCDSA has found in Minneapolis through fights about the Roof Depot, police abolition, and housing. Working class people show up for these fights when there are leaders to help organize them. 

Third, the ruling class is also watching Cop City as a model. Since 2020, 69 other similar (though smaller) projects have broken ground across the country in 47 states. There are four currently under development in Minnesota! You can follow these projects through isyourlifebetter.net. All of these have been started under DFL administrations. Normal people look at Cop City with revulsion as government gone awry. Governor Walz looks at it as a model to copy. 

Fourth, the future is now. Never again should we talk about climate change, fascism, or dictatorship as though it is a possible future threat. A Trump election in 2024 is far from our only challenge in the fight for a multiracial working class social democracy. Local Democrats and the Biden administration have been instrumental in the construction of Cop City and its militant defense. The fight for a socialist tomorrow is happening right now against every segment of the ruling class. 

Solidarity against fascism forever. 

By Ethan B F