'Cop City' protesters collect enough signatures to put referendum on ballot
They have collected 80,000 signatures and counting.
The #StopCopCity protesters have collected more than enough signatures to move its referendum campaign forward in an effort to get the city to repeal the lease it has with the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, dubbed "Cop City" by critics.
Organizers say they have collected roughly 80,000 signatures to get the fate of the center on the November ballot, more than the 70,000 signatures -- or 15% of Atlanta’s registered voters -- that’s required per the state code.
The training center, which is intended for specialized training for both law enforcement and fire department service workers, has been the center of controversy in the Georgia city.
Critics argue it will cause a greater militarization of the police and exacerbate environmental damage to the South River Forest.
City officials assert the facility could improve policing.
"This training facility will not only help boost morale, retention and recruitment of our public safety personnel, but will 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," said then-Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in 2021 at the start of the project.
A judge has extended the deadline needed for protesters to gather signatures, while also denying the city's efforts to halt the referendum petition.
The city argued the petition's signatures did not meet residency requirements of those who signed, and that an extension of the petitioning period is disagreeable, according to the court document. "This remedy rewrites the state statute and city ordinance—a power this Court does not have," the appeal reads.
“We continue to agree with the broader precedent set by the Georgia Supreme Court that holds State Law does not authorize referendums to repeal City ordinances," a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens office told ABC News.
It continued, "This referendum seeks to remove the ground lease that was executed by the previous Administration for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center and would violate the constitutional prohibition on the impairment of contracts. That said, we welcome public dialogue and engagement around our goal to build the most progressive PSTC in the nation.”
Mary Hooks, National Field Secretary for the Movement for Black Lives, told ABC News the referendum campaign hopes to reach 100,000 signatures by Aug. 21.
"There's a question of democracy here, as well, in the ways in which people's voices have been silenced, how our leaders have betrayed us," Hooks said in an interview.
"There's this big question … about police violence and excessive force, and coming out of 2020 -- some of the largest uprisings we've seen -- and this was the city's response to that," she continued.
The referendum effort was inspired by the successful effort in Camden County, Georgia, in which residents voted overwhelmingly to block the building of a launchpad for commercial space rockets, according to The Associated Press.
The effort is backed by the Atlanta Police Foundation, an independent non-profit organization.
The Atlanta City Council approved funding for the construction of the proposed police and firefighter training facility in June despite a majority of opposition by attendees during an hourslong council meeting on the vote.
The council members voted to approve $31 million in public funds for the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, as well as a provision that requires the city to pay $36 million -- $1.2 million a year over 30 years -- for using the facility, according to The Associated Press.
Organizers of the referendum petition say city officials are failing to listen to local opposition of residents.
Dickens called the approval "a major milestone for better preparing our fire, police and emergency responders to protect and serve our communities" in statement following the vote.
ABC News has reached out to the Atlanta Police Foundation, the mayor's office and the Atlanta City Council for comment.
ABC News' Alex Ederson contributed to this report.