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Analysis

#StopCopCity

Stop Cop City

City officials in Atlanta, Georgia are trying to build a massive police compound in the Weelaunee Forest, which would be used to train police forces from around the world to practice militarised tactics for urban warfare. Its development would destroy a forest known as one of Atlanta’s lungs during the climate crisis. But this is not inevitable. Forest defenders and others are calling for global solidarity to help stop this project of destruction and brutality. 

Image credit: Defend Atlanta Forest
Ray Acheson
7 February 2023

In September 2021, the Atlanta City Council passed legislation to build a $90 million police training facility, despite overwhelming opposition from the Atlanta community. The compound would include a mock city complete with houses, a school, a gas station, a bank, and a community centre; it would also feature a Black Hawk landing pad, shooting ranges, and a bomb testing site.  

At 85 acres, it would be the largest police training facility in the United States. If constructed, it will be a rehearsal space for cops from all over the country and the world to practice urban warfighting with the latest military technologies.  

Cop City—euphemistically and offensively called a “Public Safety Training Center” by its proponents—carries within it a confluence of catastrophes, including police brutality, militarism, racism, environmental damage, gentrification, and corporate profiteering.  

Police militarisation 

Police forces in the United States have always been militarised. There is a perpetual pipeline between the US military and police forces in terms of equipment and personnel. But more than that, both institutions seek domination and control over populations that are not part of, or act in opposition to, the political and economic elite.  

The US police, which began as “slave patrols” to capture enslaved Black people escaping plantations, have white supremacy and capitalist interests embedded in their function. Regardless of diversity, training, or other reforms, the police seek to cage or control those perceived as a threat to the country’s racialised, capitalist order. The US military, meanwhile, asserts itself as a global police force to enforce this same order abroad. Its pursuit of a “national security state” and “full spectrum dominance” guide its actions in seeking to dominate the world.  

Cop City will extend and deepen the US police-military relationship.

The US military already trains militarised forces globally. Its infamous School of the Americas is one example, but the US military runs training operations for police and soldiers around the world. US police also already participate in military trainings, including with the Israel Defense Forces. As an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace notes, “The exchanges refine and enhance the militarization rooted in American policing with Israeli tactics and technology of occupation and apartheid that are being tested on Palestinians on a daily basis.” 

Cop City would be part of this cycle of exporting and importing violence in preparation for suppression of dissent as the world burns. The creation of this kind of compound is an escalation in the violence against those who are marginalised by the state, as well as an attack on the planet’s well-being. 

Environmental impacts 

In addition to the extreme carbon footprint of US militarism, Cop City would actively destroy wetlands and forest. Its construction would result in bulldozing a large part of the Weelaunee Forest, otherwise known as the South River Forest. This land is essential for environmental well-being, especially as the climate crisis worsens.  

Stop Cop City forest defenders explain, “The wetlands within the forest help to mitigate the risk of dangerous flooding, and provide breeding grounds for amphibians and migration sites for wading birds…. Over 150 species call the Weelaunee Forest home, including river otters and white-tailed deer and Carolina wrens and salamanders.”  

Furthermore, “The extensive tree canopy keeps the surrounding areas cooler (something hugely important as the risk of fatal heatwaves grows with each passing year), captures and stores carbon dioxide from the air, and acts as a natural filter that mitigates air pollution.” The forest’s canopy is already diminishing. Cop City would raze many acres more. 

Racial injustice  

In addition to the environmental destruction, Cop City also imposes further racialised violence upon land that has seen more than its share of pain. 

The proposed site for Cop City is in a majority Black area of DeKalb County, on land that was once stolen from Muscogee-Creek people, that was then used as a plantation during slavery, and then as a prison form where incarcerated, mostly Black, people were forced to work on projects for the city of Atlanta. 

Building a massive police facility where police will be trained to use military equipment and urban warfighting techniques in a predominantly Black area is a nightmare for residents, especially in the midst of relentless police brutality against Black and other communities of colour across the United States. 

Corporate interests 

But part of the interest in the site for this project is likely precisely because it is in a predominantly Black neighbourhood. The construction of projects like this are often tied to gentrification. As Atlanta has been tapped to host games in the 2026 World Cup and is seeking to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, being able to offer the “security” afforded by a heavily-militarised police force is meant as a selling point. 

Cop City has significant backing from the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is a private-public partnership and a major player in local politics. The Nation reports, “Its executive board is a veritable who’s who of corporate power and inherited wealth. Last year, the foundation expended large sums of its donors’ money lobbying for police expansion.” 

The Foundation has leveraged its corporate backers—from Delta Airlines to the Waffle House—to raise two-thirds of the costs of constructing Cop City. The other third will be paid for by taxpayers. The Foundation has also relied upon the captured local media to manufacture consent for the project. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the city’s so-called paper of record, is owned by Cox Enterprises. The CEO of Cox Enterprises is Alex Taylor, who is leading the fundraising drive for Cop City. Thus, the paper of record has only ever recorded the support for Cop City from corporate elites. 

Organising to Stop Cop City 

Organisers in Atlanta have opposed Cop City since the beginning. They signed petitions, engaged in protest, and contributed 17 hours’ worth of commentary to public hearings at City Hall. After the plans for Cop City were approved, an even broader movement formed to defend the forest against destruction. Some have taken up residence in the forest while others have continued organising against the corporate backers across the country. 

In December 2022, a joint police task force violently arrested six forest defenders and charged them with “domestic terrorism”. Then, on 18 January 2023, Georgia State Police marched into the forest and killed a nonviolent forest defender, Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán. The circumstances of this police killing of a climate activist are highly suspicious, as no body camera footage is available and the police have refused to release the names of the officers involved. An independent autopsy has confirmed that police shot Tort thirteen times. [Update 13 February 2023: The Georgia State Police initially insisted that Tortuguita fired upon them first, hitting an officer in the leg, which resulted in them killing Tort. Other forest defenders said the officer was hit by friendly fire. On 9 February, Atlanta Police released video camera footage that indicates that the Georgia State Police did shoot their own officer.] Since then, over ten more individuals have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, despite the fact that they are only accused with trespassing.  

Tort’s killing comes on the heels of the most lethal year on record for police killing civilians. It marks the first known killing of an environmental activist by police in the United States. As noted in The Nation, the policing of protests is “structurally skewed in favor of the police—and, according to multiple studies, systematically biased against Black Lives Matter and the political left.” 

On 31 January 2023, the Mayor of Atlanta announced that the permits have been approved to begin destruction of the forest. Police are preparing to do another sweep against forest defenders. On 6 February, heavily armed police raided the forest to clear it out and escort accompanied construction workers—at the same time that Tortuguita’s family held a press conference demanding answers for their killing. 

But Cop City is not an inevitability; organisers are clear that it can—and must—be stopped. They explain that the mayor can cancel the lease, and they urge City Council to pass an ordinance doing so. The contractors and the corporate backers could be compelled to pull out of the projects.  

How to take action 

In their book Rehearsals for Living, Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson write about living in ways we want the world to be, such as through mutual aid and relationality. Cop City is the antithesis to this. It is a space for cops to rehearse militarised oppression and violence. 

This will impact all our movements. Whether you are working on climate change, police violence, economic or social justice, racial justice, housing rights, disarmament and demilitarisation, etc., the training grounds at Cop City are meant to oppress you. Stopping Cop City is not just the responsibility of those living in Atlanta. All our struggles for a livable world are bound up in this struggle.  

There are many ways to take action to Stop Cop City, including: 

Resources for more information 

Stop Cop City Action Toolkit 

Stop Cop City Solidarity 

Defend the Atlanta Forest 

Atlanta Community Press Collective 

Kelly Hayes, “The Death of a Forest Defender at ‘Stop Cop City’,” Movement Memos: A Truthout Podcast, 26 January 2023 

Hannah Riley and Micah Herskind, “Atlanta’s ‘Cop City’ Is Putting Policing Before the Climate,” Teen Vogue, 30 January 2023 

Michah Herskind, “Cop City and the Prison Industrial Complex in Atlanta,” Mainline, 7 February 2022 

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Ray Acheson

Ray Acheson is Director of Reaching Critical Will, WILPF’s disarmament programme. They are author of Abolishing State Violence: A World Beyond Bombs, Borders, and Cages and Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy. They organise for abolition and demilitarisation in their work with various coalitions, and provide intersectional feminist analysis and advocacy at international disarmament forums. 

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VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

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PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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