By Will Lonnie
In the aftermath of the nation-wide Black Lives Matter riots of 2020, the Atlanta Police Foundation proposed the construction of a new police militarization facility — essentially, a training ground for urban warfare. The facility was conceived with the intention of boosting cop morale. It was set to be built on 381 acres of the largest green space in Atlanta — the Weelaunee Forest. Stop Cop City, the movement that has emerged in militant opposition to the new facility, recently had its 7th week of Action in the Weelaunee Forest.
The week started at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, on behalf of 61 forest defenders arraigned on charges of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act. Hundreds turned out to show love and support for the long list of members of the Stop Cop City / Defend The Atlanta Forest movement. These individuals are being targeted by the state for actions such as “collective care,” “mutual aid” and “solidarity” as stated at length in the indictment itself.
Clearly, they’ve been reading some theory, and we must say, we were a little flattered about their obsession. However, they either ignored or were ignorant of the fact that solidarity is how we win. Their attempts to divide and silence us will only make us grow bigger and stronger, as we proved by our presence on the courthouse steps early that brisk fall morning.
In addition to RICO charges, many face “domestic terrorism” charges as well. Both charges are weak with very little substantial evidence to back up the claims and will not likely hold up after scrutiny. Prosecutors don’t necessarily need a conviction or even a trial, and these would likely be very expensive and time-consuming. A strong case isn’t needed to create the idea of “terrorists” in the minds of the public with the help of media outlets like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, its parent company Cox Enterprises, and publisher Alex Taylor, a member, donor and fundraiser for the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF).
After arraignment, many of the RICO defendants were jailed at Fulton County Rice Street Jail, notorious for overcrowded, unsanitary and violent conditions that have claimed the lives of 10 people in police custody so far in 2023 and 15 in 2022. Many are being held by the county indefinitely without trial, in some cases for years without even an indictment, held on cash bonds.
The week of action was supposed to be when City of Atlanta residents would take to the polls, on November 7, to vote on the Cop City referendum. However, this legal means of democratic participation has been stalled by the mayor and a private legal team hired by the city, who are finding ways to invalidate the grassroots democratic effort. Not even a resolution to put the vote on the ballot as proposed by a council member was permitted to be introduced according to the attorney’s advice.
On September 11, the vote coalition delivered over 116,000 signatures to the clerk’s office which were subsequently stuffed in a closet and have yet to be counted. However, the clerk’s office did scan each petition sheet and publicly shared unredacted personal info of organizers and petition signers including full names, addresses, and personal cell phone numbers, a state sponsored doxing. The scans were completed so that the clerk’s office could perform “signature matching,” a historically discriminatory policy decried by Georgia Democrats when Georgia Republicans and Governor Kemp, who was Secretary of State at the time, used it as a means of voter suppression.
The petitions were delivered less than a week after the RICO indictments were made public and only four days after a coalition of activists and faith leaders temporarily halted construction on the Cop City site. Five protesters, including faith leaders, chained themselves to construction equipment to temporarily halt construction while dozens more protested outside the fence in the public right of way. The purpose of the action was to deliver The People’s Injunction to contractors and property owners as well as signal to the state, the city and the public that no amount of political repression by police would sway our determination, and that it would only strengthen our resolve. The five were charged with trespassing and released on signature bond, a departure from the state’s previous responses to protests on site.
This undying dedication was also displayed by a group of elder activists who once again blocked the entrance to the construction site on November 8. Atlanta Police arrested 4 elder women who sat in folding chairs at the entrance with a banner demanding that The People’s Injunction be respected and that the petition counting process begin immediately.
These four were also charged with trespassing and released on signature bond, a trend that might reflect varying opinions within law enforcement on the prosecution of protesters. In June, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston recused herself from the prosecution of domestic terrorism charges due to a difference of opinions between her and Georgia Attorney Chris Carr, who refused to drop the case against the clearly identified legal observer arrested at the music festival on March 5.
This week of action also occurs while the Israeli military, backed by western nation states, relentlessly continues its fifth week of dropping US-made guided missiles on civilian populations across Gaza in a genocidal rampage against “terrorism.” Meanwhile, Israel continues its 75-year settler occupation and apartheid rule in the West Bank with top of the line, highly sophisticated surveillance technology.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens often repeats APF talking points and touts the “state of the art” training facility as some kind of technological savior that will prevent police brutality and eliminate crime. Atlanta police and other nearby agencies are already militarized and yet, for nearly two years, forest defenders kept cops and contractors at bay with simple blockades, sticks, stones, and bottles in ways similar to the Palestinian resistance.
What has become clear in the month of Israeli genocide of Palestinians is that our freedom in the US is inherently tied up with the freedom of Palestinians. We will not be free ourselves in the belly of the beast until Palestine is free from Israeli occupation. The Palestinian resolve is unmatched and an inspiration to resistance groups all over the globe, particularly indigenous resistance to land theft, ecological devastation, and settler colonialism as result of western capitalist imperialism.
In a fashion not dissimilar to the way the State of Georgia seeks to label dissenters and protesters as “domestic terrorists,” Israel, with the help of western state departments and media companies, seeks to label anyone that dares stand up to defend themselves from brutal occupation and the crushing reality of life under apartheid as radical religious extremist “terrorists.” Not only does this completely dehumanize Palestinians, but it serves as justification for all-out war on a besieged population.
The mayor, the APF, and their copaganda media team have long decried protesters as “outside agitators” but on March 5, the detention of 22 protestors without Georgia ID’s and the release of 13 local residents reveals that this rhetorical strategy is weak and baseless. Fear mongering surrounding pro-Palestine protests has caused the same political propagandists to spread unfounded anxiety about a non-existent threat of infiltration by foreign resistance groups, a move intended to resurrect post-9/11 Islamophobia in the minds of white Americans.
The intent behind pressing these outlandish charges against protestors and forest defenders is not only to dehumanize them and reduce them to a type of “other” that the public might expect to be targets of state repression, but also to dissuade any type of dissent or the exercise of free speech. These RICO and domestic terrorism cases are only a testing ground to see what the state can get away with – a type of repression we can expect to see again elsewhere.
Open records requests have revealed that the Biden administration indicated that Cop City is “exemplary of what President Biden would like to see other municipalities emulate,” a major concern abolitionists have voiced since Cop City’s inception. Similar proposals have popped up across the country from Boston, MA, to Nashville, TN, to San Pablo, CA. It becomes clear that the only plan presented by politicians for any of the prevailing issues in our society is a militarized police force.
Atlanta Police Foundation has admitted that nearly half of the police departments that would train at Cop City would come from out of state, which draws into question the legitimacy of claims by APF and the mayor that the facility is intended for Atlanta Police and Fire Rescue. Judging by the sheer scale, we can see that this is intended as a destination training location and a money-making venture for the private APF that would be constructed and operated with public tax dollars. They would then turn around and “gift” surveillance equipment, police vehicles, and bonuses to officers like the 2020 “blue flu” when Atlanta police claimed officer morale was low.
Police departments across the state participate in a program called the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, GILEE, which is hosted by Georgia State University and partners with Israeli police. Tactics taught to Atlanta police by Israel include high tech surveillance, drone operations, protest kettling, tear gas dispersal, and knee-on-neck restraints such as the one used by Minneapolis officer Chauvin that killed George Floyd.
Israeli training in what is described as “urban policing” and “counterterrorism” serves to reinforce racial discrimination against Muslims and Arabs in occupied Palestine, but also against Black and Brown communities here in the Atlanta and the U.S. Advanced video surveillance techniques practiced by Israel that disproportionately target people of color are being taught and exported to police departments in the U.S. Atlanta’s Operation Shield video integration center was directly modeled after Israel’s apartheid security apparatus. Israel even has their own Cop City nicknamed “Little Gaza.”
With all the parallels between US and Israel laid out in the open, we start to see that Israel is to the western neo-liberal capitalist hegemonic empire what Cop City hopes to be for the domestic militarized police within US borders. It is both our right and our duty to defend ourselves and our friends in Palestine from state-sanctioned violence and environmental devastation. Now is the time to intertwine our solidarity with resistance movements across the globe and show our strength as the global majority.
Some movement protesters have formed a new coalition of activists called Block Cop City. BCC organizers recently completed a cross country speaking tour visiting police abolitionists and climate change protesters to inform them about what to expect on site during the action. Organizers encouraged protesters to form affinity groups of trusted individuals to plan their courses of action and take precautions against police retaliation.
According to their website, “this action will employ non-violent tactics not because we accept the state’s false dichotomy of legitimate and illegitimate protest, but rather, because we believe that a commitment to non-violent tactics will best allow us to stick together and overcome the police’s attempt to isolate and divide us.”
Palestinian American citizens and immigrants, Jewish anti-Zionist Americans, Holocaust survivors, and many more organizers across the country dedicated to the liberation of the people and the land are protesting the Biden’s administration’s unabashed support for Israel’s genocidal rampage. Others are blocking ships loaded with weapons shipments heading to Israel and defacing weapons manufacturers’ facilities. With the voter referendum effort indefinitely stalled, on-going construction of the facilities, and the indefinite closure of Weelaunee People’s Park (Intrenchment Creek Park) under Dekalb CEO Thurmond’s executive order, collective resistance answers the question: If not now, when?