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In Standoff Over Cop City, Police Are the Real Terrorists

For over two years, the protests and occupations against a police training center in Atlanta, Georgia flew under the radar of the mainstream press. Now, after the police murder of land defender Manuel Teran and the arrest of 19 protesters on charges of domestic terrorism, the standoff has gained national attention. But in the battle to defend the Weelaunee Forest and the people of Atlanta from the development of the massive “Cop City” training center, it is the Atlanta Police Department and the state that have been acting like terrorists.

James Dennis Hoff

January 27, 2023
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Photo: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The ongoing protests against the construction of a police training center in the Weelaunee Forest in Atlanta, Georgia are a testament to the spirit of resistance that was ignited by the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd Protests of 2020. For two years, brave activists and protesters have occupied the forest and taken to the streets to demand that the city reverse its decision to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to further fund a police force that has historically been used to violently repress, control and limit the power of working class people and people of color in particular.

But the protesters in Atlanta are not only fighting against further wasteful spending on police and the “Cop City” training center, they are also fighting against the destruction of the region’s natural environment and the further pollution and degradation of land that will disproportionately affect the poor and working-class who live in the area. As those who oppose the massive development (which would include, among other things, several shooting ranges and a landing pad for Black Hawk helicopters!) have made clear, the forest is a vital part of the wetlands that help to contain and filter pollution and rainwater, preventing and limiting the threat of floods to the predominantly Black neighborhoods that border the forest. 

And these protesters are not alone:, during a City Council hearing to debate the planned facility, more than 70 percent of the local residents who spoke on the question were opposed to it. Despite that, the Council members voted 10-4 to approve the destruction of the forest to make way for the police development as well as a stage facility for a for-profit film company. 

In response to the occupations, which began in 2021, the city and state have used the police and other state agencies, including heavily armed SWAT teams, to regularly harass, attack, arrest, beat, and terrorize the protesters and their allies. As one protester, a young student named Eliot, told the Intercept:

Since December, the police have repeatedly stormed the forest with military-grade weapons, pointed assault rifles at protesters, fired chemical weapons at tree sitters, and used chainsaws in an attempt to dismantle tree houses with tree sitters still in them.

This violence and repression came to a head on January 18, when Atlanta Police killed young land defender Manuel Teran in a raid on their encampment. The police claim that they were fired on first, but protesters and witnesses vehemently deny that claim. What we do know from footage from the scene is that the police who entered the camp that day were in full military gear and armed with automatic rifles. They had come heavily armed with an exclusive mandate on the use of violence to force their will and the will of the state upon protesters. The fact that they were met with resistance from people trying to defend themselves, their fellow activists, and their neighbors, is completely justified. In addition to the killing of Teran, the police also arrested several land defenders as well as activists who were merely trying to document the raid.  

In response to the death of Teran, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Atlanta, where they were also met with police violence. Now, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Atlanta Attorney General Chris Carr, in an attempt to further intimidate activists and dissuade peaceful protest, are prosecuting demonstrators who were arrested during the protests on ridiculous trumped up charges of domestic terrorism. This could land some demonstrators in jail for decades. Meanwhile, in a preemptive move to cut off further protest in advance of the release of video footage of the police murder of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, Governor Kemp has already signed a bill that would allow him to immediately deploy the Georgia National Guard in the event of major mobilizations. 

Like always, it is the state that instigates violence, whether that violence is the destruction and pollution of public lands, the beating, arrest, and murder of activists, the constant surveillance and harassment of working people and people of color in their neighborhoods, or the seizing of streets by the National Guard to suppress public outrage. Such acts of state terrorism are not the exception; in fact, they are the predominant mode by which the state manages working-class power to guarantee the seamless exploitation of working people by the forces of capital. Ending this violence will require nothing less than the complete overthrow of the capitalist state, a horizon to which all working people should direct their efforts. 

In the meantime, resisting police violence and the ongoing rampant destruction of the environment requires the active participation of the masses of working people across the country, building independent working-class political organizations for socialism and organizing and taking actions in their workplaces. In Atlanta and Georgia, this means taking to the streets to oppose the Governor’s attempts to repress protest and to hold the police accountable for the murders of Manuel Teran and Tyre Nichols. But defeating the planned development will also require a concerted movement of working people taking actions in their unions and workplaces to shut down the city and collectively say no to Cop City and the destruction of the Weelaunee forest.

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James Dennis Hoff

James Dennis Hoff is a writer, educator, labor activist, and member of the Left Voice editorial board. He teaches at The City University of New York.

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