'Cop City' protesters to attempt to block controversial Atlanta training center construction

Friday marks the start of a weekend-long “mass direct nonviolent action."

November 10, 2023, 4:45 PM

Friday marks the start of a weekend-long "mass direct nonviolent action" by the organizers of the Block Cop City movement in and around the South River Forest area of Atlanta where the controversial Atlanta Public Safety Training Center is set to be built.

Construction of the facility, dubbed "Cop City" by opponents, is ongoing, and is set to be completed by December 2024. Critics of the 85-acre, $90 million center will gather in the forest over the weekend to protest the construction, and to prepare for a "Day of Action" scheduled for Monday in an effort to “bring construction to a halt,” organizers say.

"If the city government does not halt construction in order to listen to the people, then we will simply have to do it ourselves: a People's Stop Work Order," activists said on the protest's event page.

The larger movement against the center, called Stop Cop City, has been ongoing for the last two years, with critics of the training center for the Atlanta police and fire departments arguing that its completion could lead to greater police militarization in the Atlanta metro area, which is a predominantly Black community.

“It is a war base where police will learn military-like maneuvers to kill black people and control our bodies and movements," the movement states on their website. "They are practicing how to make sure poor and working class people stay in line."

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 Atlanta Public Safety Training Center's website.

PHOTO: Protesters gathered on Constitution Road (shown here) on Nov. 10, 2023, after five individuals were arrested on Sept. 7, 2023, at the site of Atlanta's proposed public safety training center.
Protesters gathered on Constitution Road (shown here) on Nov. 10, 2023, after five individuals were arrested on Sept. 7, 2023, at the site of Atlanta's proposed public safety training center after chaining themselves to construction equipment in an effort to halt work.
John Spink/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via ZUMA Press Wire

The Atlanta Police Foundation, a nonprofit that's supporting the center's construction, has said the center will promote "first-rate training."

"Policing and firefighting are continually evolving," a statement on their website reads. "In late 2024, Atlanta's citizens will have law enforcement agencies whose cultural, operational and community training regimens will be the best in the nation."

ABC News has reached out to the Atlanta Police Foundation for comment on the planned demonstrations.

A recent petition for a referendum on the center's construction garnered more than 100,000 signatures, but its fate hangs in the balance amid legal challenges by the city regarding the petition's validity.

Controversy around the center escalated when a protester, Manuel Esteban Páez Terán, was shot and killed by police as they raided the campground occupied by demonstrators in January. Officials say the protester fired the first shot at a state trooper, and the officer responded with the fatal shot.

Terán, who used they/them pronouns, had at least 57 gunshot wounds in their body, according to the DeKalb County autopsy, including in the hands, torso, legs and head.

There is no body camera footage of the incident, according to police. Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Christian last month said he would not pursue charges against the state troopers who shot Páez Terán, saying he found that their use of deadly force was "objectively reasonable."

Many of the protests against the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center have ended in arrests for some involved. Sixty-one individuals were indicted in a racketeering case after Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr obtained a sweeping indictment against organizers in August. More than half of the individuals named in the indictment were listed as residing outside of Georgia.

PHOTO: "Stop Cop City" demonstrators protest outside the Fulton County Courthouse as 61 fellow protesters are arraigned on state RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charges in Atlanta, on Nov. 6, 2023.
"Stop Cop City" demonstrators protest outside the Fulton County Courthouse as 61 fellow protesters are arraigned on state RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charges in Atlanta, on Nov. 6, 2023.
Erik S. Lesser/EPA via Shutterstock

"If you come to our state and shoot a police officer, throw Molotov cocktails at law enforcement, set fire to police vehicles, damage construction equipment, vandalize private homes and businesses, and terrorize their occupants, you can and will be held accountable," Carr said in the September indictment.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the indictment, arguing that Carr wants to "punish protest, civil disobedience, or isolated crimes."

"The indictment's theory is shocking, and its combination of charges is unprecedented," the ACLU said in a statement following the indictment. "While Carr wants to prosecute a protest movement as if it were a full-fledged organized crime ring, much of the alleged conduct is far less severe."

Atlanta is preparing for this weekend's planned protests.

"We have been speaking with community organizers and leaders, just to make sure that everyone understands how much we support peaceful protests, how much we welcome peaceful protests, but also outlaying [that] if things go in a different direction, we are prepared for that," said LaChandra Burks, deputy chief operating officer for the office of Mayor Andre Dickens and a spokesperson for the city of Atlanta, in an interview with ABC News.

Mayor Dickens and other supporters of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center argue that the facility would replace current inadequate training facilities, and would help address difficulties in hiring and retaining police officers. Mayor Dickens' office also has assembled two separate committees in order to engage the community regarding the training center amid the controversy.