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Stop Cop City | Clark, Atlanta Community Press Collective
Weelaunee Forest defenders and the chilling intent of state terror
Clark from the Atlanta Community Press Collective joins me to discuss the Stop Cop City movement, also known as the Defend the Atlanta Forest (or Defend Weelaunee Forest) movement in Atlanta, Georgia. Clark is not a representative of the movement, but through his coverage, speaks clearly to the concerns raised by activists and forest occupiers of the construction of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center (Cop City).
On January 18 of this year, Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, more affectionately and commonly known as Tortuguita or Tort, was shot multiple times and killed by a Georgia State Police SWAT team while sitting cross-legged on the ground, right outside their tent. Tortuguita was part of the ongoing Stop Copy City movement and a defender of the Weelaunee Forest. Immediately after this occurred, a very routine, and typical, series of false statements were made by the police, indicating their officers were acting defensively to a mortal threat: the damn greenie had a gun. As Clark mentions in their description of these events, the multiple versions of the incident given by the authorities contradict what both body cam footage and an independent autopsy show: whatever injuries the officers incurred during their raid were most definitely from friendly fire; Tort was shot in cold blood.
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The Weelaunee Forest is one of the largest urban forests in the so-called United States. The land it resides on, like much of the area, has a rich and tumultuous history, steeped in the legacies of slavery and genocide. The land is part of the territories of the Muscogee Creek people, who in the early 19th century, were largely dispersed and forced from their home to lands westward called the “Indian Territories”, in what is currently known as Oklahoma. The forced emigration from their lands is known as The Trail of Tears, a stark example and product of the federal government’s decades long, multipronged war against the diverse native peoples of Turtle Island. The great Muscogee Confederacy, through decades of colonial incursions, was fragmented.
The land is also the site of the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, which operated as a federal prison labor site for much of the last century. A straight, bloody line can be drawn from the slave plantations of the pre-Civil War South to the modern carceral system in the United States. Remember, or learn if you haven’t already, that the lauded 13th amendment of the constitution states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Slavery, in various forms, has existed within the boundaries of this nation since its founding. It certainly existed in this prison, as the Atlanta Community Press Collective has researched and documented extensively. As they write in their article on the storied history of this site:
We feel the strong need to insist on our usage of the word “history” as something more than an abstract narrative. It is flesh and blood, the tales and songs of joy and sorrow and pain told by the people who lived it, and not just the numerical record keeping of the structures that caused ongoing suffering which still benefit from this abstraction.
I bring this all up because it’s relevant to this movement to stop Cop City from being built. The forest defenders are drawn to this movement for a variety of reasons, and certainly, the ecological devastation the construction of this cop playground will produce is a central concern. But, history speaks. The modern institution of policing in the US is directly tied to the history of the Weelaunee Forest, despite the institution’s claims to legitimacy. It has none. The murder of Tortuguita is part of an escalation of violence against those who put their bodies on the line. As Clark elaborates on in this interview, there have been dozens of arrests of the forest defenders that have been charged with domestic terrorism. These indictments are meant to chill the movement, to bully, and in the case of Tortuguita, murder forest defenders and allies to let the police and the state clear-cut much of Weelaunee Forest and build this monstrosity. It is at this time, especially, that we engage in solidaristic support of the movement to stop Cop City and defend Weelaunee Forest from destruction.
This interview was recorded on March 22, 2023, and released as episode 343 of Last Born In The Wilderness. The transcript that follows was edited mostly for clarity, and somewhat for length.
For this interview, there are a few things that I want to do, which is first to discuss this movement for what it is and what it's addressing—what it's trying to oppose and what it's for—but also to provide historical context to this as well.
We can certainly talk about it in the immediate sense: the Stop Cop City/Defend the Atlanta Forest or Weelaunee Forest, is a movement meant to stop a training center, officially called the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, and more popularly known as Cop City, from being constructed, which an incredibly obscenely large project that will largely destroy the Atlanta Forest—there is that particular element to it. But again, there are some historical aspects to this, of where that land is and what has happened on it, and I wanted to go over that as well.
But before we jump into that, I really want to know about you as much as you're comfortable sharing, about your reporting, and the Atlanta Community Press Collective and what the aims are of this collective.
The Atlanta Community Press Collective was formed in 2021, or just as the Cop City project was getting going before the city council that approved it. We're an abolitionist collective, we have no qualms about admitting where we are coming from in terms of policing abolition. We are not part of the Stop Cop City movement, but certainly ideologically, we are very aligned with it. It is our goal to see this project stopped and also to see the land swap, which is the other part of the forest, to see that project does not continue.
I joined the collective officially in 2022, but had helped out before that. The collective got its start writing the history of this site. This space used to be known as the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, used as a labor farm for the better part of a whole century. So, the first big project the collective did was write what is now known as the history of the land. There are a couple reports previously, particularly one written by someone named Jillian Wootten, that was disproven through the research early on. So, I helped in a little bit of that capacity very early on with just a touch of the research, but largely was not involved in that. It was only this year that I came on board and started doing more of the reporting.
It's good to get an idea of where you're coming at this from, and in the collective as well. The reporting is excellent. Admittedly, I've only became pretty recently aware of it, and that's due to some of the blind spots that I have because I'm geographically very distant from Atlanta.
But these issues intersect and affect all of us because we're talking about the construction of this training center, which is really a place for police to do a variety of things involving training. One of the main concerns is what the purpose of this is beyond further militarizing policing in the Atlanta area, but also of setting an example for what other police departments and police on the national level can really do and get away with. So, there are national issues at play here, as well as ecological.
What's deeply held in the movement itself is that a forest is being destroyed. Ultimately, a large swath of it will be clear-cut to make way for this training center, but also there's the land swap you mentioned involving a Hollywood production studio. Talk about the actual proposal to build this training center as well as this Hollywood studio site, when that was first proposed, and how much land it’s going to take in comparison to what the actual forested area is.
Yes. The entire size of this particular section of the forest is roughly 700 acres. The legislation that establishes Cop City describes the overall properties as 381 acres. And then the Shadowbox (formerly Blackhall) Studios side is about 40 acres.
In 2021, the legislation was first proposed to use this space for Cop City, and had been part of a conversation that was being had behind the scenes. This is very common for how Atlanta operates, something known as "the Atlanta Way," where a lot of these dealings are done in backrooms between public and private interests, and then brought forth and on to the public as a fait accompli. The conversation has been going on for, I think, something like four or five years before that. They'd identified several sites to build a new training center, and then decided on the Old Atlanta Prison Farm site and Weelaunee Forest as their intended site.
The Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), who is the one doing the actual fundraising for the projects and have leased the land from the city of Atlanta, shopped around their legislation to various city councilors and found a willing participant in Joyce Sheperd, whose district is not near this property. In fact, this property does not have representation on City Council—it is part of unincorporated DeKalb County. So, it is technically the city of Atlanta, but there is no actual representation within the city for where this property is.
Joyce Sheperd brought the legislation forward, and that began a huge electoral fight which culminated in 17 hours of public comment before the vote. The city council meeting that saw this vote extended over the course of two days because of the amount of public comment that was given, and was like a 70/30 split [source: 50/50] against and for the project. Most of the folks who were calling in for the project were definitely speaking off a script. They were either firefighters or police, or residents of an area of the city known as Buckhead, which has tried to secede from Atlanta and where most of the wealthy white folks live.
Around the same time, just before that, on an area of road called Bouldercrest, there was land owned by Blackhall Studios, with Ryan Millsap as the owner. He intended to create a movie studio. Atlanta is the Hollywood of the South; the film industry is now a large part of the goings-on here. Its economic impact is debatable in terms of the tax breaks that we've given the film industry.
Blackhall clear-cut the lands and then did an environmental study and found it could not properly support the weight of the projected proposed studio, so they connected with a DeKalb County commissioner and swapped out their now clear-cut lands for a parkland, which was then called Entrenchment Creek Park. The movement has changed the name to Weelaunee People's Park at this point, but they did a straight-up land swap. And one of the things that should be noted about this now clear-cut land is anytime that it rains, it floods. This is pretty indicative of what's going to happen when we lose all this ground cover and forest for that area, an area that is in general already very prone to flooding. The sewer lines get backed up out onto the roadway anytime that there's a heavy rain, so it's already a large concern in the area that's only going to be exacerbated through projects.
Ryan Millsap, who owns Blackhall Studios, then sold it to an equity firm—his former studio is just south of the forest—and is now called Shadowbox Studios. But in the sale, he retained the swapped land and still intended on building a studio there. That particular section is caught up in a legal battle about the swap, which has thus far stopped his ability to do any construction.
There are several different things happening simultaneously, but regarding this training center for policing, let me quote something from the Wikipedia page on the subject because it sums it up nicely. It states that regarding the scope of policing in Atlanta, "over one-third of Atlanta's budget in 2022 went to the police department: about $250 million," and that "Atlanta is among the most surveilled cities in the United States." So, that seems to be the context of what policing is like in that area. And then, moreover, they want to build this incredibly large training center.
I read elsewhere was that because of the uprisings in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as Rashard Brooks, who was in the Atlanta area when he was murdered by police, the Atlanta police apparently have low morale now. So, this is used as "they don't feel appreciated, so let's build a gigantic training facility for them, with a mock city to do all these training exercises."
Could you speak to the reasons that have been given as to why this facility is necessary, from the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation?
Yes, their old training facilities were run down according to them, which really leads us to believe that they were just not well-kept. So, when justifying the need for this space, in terms of needing a new facility, in general, they make claims there are several inoperable sinks, broken toilets, mold—all things that are just general upkeep you would want to do on your own facilities that they neglected to do. Those are the reasons why they needed to build a new space.
And the reason why it needs to be this expansive, 86 acres, essentially cop playground, they don't say directly that it's for morale, but they do say that it's for retention. Atlanta at this point has no problem saying that their police officers are the most well-trained, touting the ways they go above and beyond the minimum training requirements. But they say that this facility will enable them to both retain officers who are leaving for other departments or leaving the force entirely, and also attract other officers. And by that, they mean new officers locally, but also out of state. They projected 43% of APD officers that will come and train at this facility would be from out of state.
I mentioned earlier the worry is this type of training facility will be mimicked, that once you set an example of "this is how policing training should be done," then New York City or some other major metropolitan area might want to build similar facilities. Out here in the Pacific Northwest where I live, I can imagine people out in Seattle or Portland, or somewhere in California, would also want to build a gigantic training facility as well.
Part of what I want is just to contextualize—as I mentioned with the massive level of civil disrupt that occurred after the murder of George Floyd and Rashard Brooks—is two years on from those events, it feels like this project is a reaction to that. They think, "We had this incredibly disruptive thing where the police, as an idea and as an institution, was attacked by many people from a variety of different political backgrounds, and now we have these radicals camping in the forest trying to stop us from building this training center. We have to get everything back in order and make sure that this type of thing never happens again."
That's really my opinion, but I'm curious what your thoughts are.
I would say the timing definitely backs that theory, and it's one that is pretty commonly held. It's a theory that I favor myself. This was a way to reinforce that policing and police are still important and are not under threat of being defunded or having to face any real consequences for their actions and any real impact from the mass uprising that we saw in 2020.
On your point of this having national implications, I think this does mirror the militarization of police, where it started slow—police weren't getting armored vehicles en masse to begin with. Some departments started buying them and other departments started to see that and wanted them too, and now police have MRAPs [Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles], which seems entirely unnecessarily and excessive.
A large part of our research comes from Georgia Open Records Act requests, and we're able to actually see emails between the city and the Atlanta Police Foundation. We see this play out pretty frequently, where they identify something that they think is cool or neat at another training facility, and that's what they say they want here. So, this will undoubtedly have that stated effect down the line as other police departments want this new shiny thing.
We mentioned, of course, the aftermath of these uprisings in 2020. But also, it's the larger, decades-long context of what happened after 9/11. We'll get into some of these domestic terrorism charges that have been pressed against some of the people involved in the Stop Cop City movement, but I want to contextualize this as well, where there has been this increased militarization of police over the past two decades, and even before that, but especially in the past two decades.
This has been true for a long time, particularly for Black, Brown, and poor communities. The Black Panthers were saying this shit back in the 1970s, that the police are an occupying force in communities, similar to a military force. It feels like you're in colonized territory, which is absolutely true.
That's the sense of all this—it feels like they're training on the level that the military would train for a counterinsurgency campaign. By building these training facilities with actual mock villages, they’re actually helping them train for future civil disobedience and mass uprisings that may come in the coming years and decades. It has that implication, to me at least.
I would say that is definitely a driving force here. The name “Cop City” is both an ode to another fight in Chicago, where their slogan was “No Cop Academy” that was going on right as the 2020 uprising was happening, and I think ultimately, the police were successful in at least getting their projects started. I don't think it's been finished yet, but they're certainly further along than Cop City.
So, it is a sort of recognition of that, as well as an understanding that there is an actual small mock city here complete with stores and apartment complexes and things that you would typically need to engage in if you're suppressing some sort of protest movement or general uprising. That is precisely what this is intended for.
Now, of course, the event a police department is going to argue that this is for live shooters and things of that nature. But what we see far more often is them responding to general unrest, or street racing, or things just the general populace are doing things, and not these active shooter situations. Those are incredibly uncommon for APD, at least, to respond to before they're finished.
Right. It's worth acknowledging what this all will be in a material sense, but also representing the kind of time we're in, with the context of what happened very recently and what's happened over the course of decades and centuries in this country.
Let's talk about when this movement Stop Cop City started, and the general tactics that have been employed over this time to prevent the furthering of this project and the construction of this training center.
Yes, there was an initial occupation in November 2021 and was broken up about a month later, and then reconstituted in January 2022. So from January 2022 until January 18, 2023, there was a continuous occupation, where the police would engage in raids, and people might have left the forest for several hours or some time, but would always return. It wasn't until the deadly raid that killed Tortuguita on the 18th did the actual occupation ended.
Over that time, there have been a variety of methods and tools used. Peaceful, nonviolent direct action of literally just putting your body where construction is supposed to be was the heart of much of it. There were also more militant actions there, with sabotage being fairly common. But then there were nonviolent direct actions, like protesting at houses of contractors or funders. I believe, at one point, activists leafleted a church where one of the Cop City contractors attended—they would put out flyers in neighborhoods saying, "This is your neighbor, and this is what they're doing." Then there are calling and email campaigns, a whole variety of tactics from the tool bag. But of course, the one that will always be focused on by police in the state is sabotage,
Yes, when they burn vehicles, buildings, or other infrastructure. But I also want to highlight—because this is not emphasized as much by the state, of course—is the tactics that they employ.
So certainly, it came to everyone's attention what happened to Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, commonly known as Tortuguita or Tort. They were murdered by police officers. And just very recently, an independently conducted autopsy report came out indicating several really significant things that contradicted the story that the police gave about what happened.
There was some there was some footage from a body cam, but not from the officers who were involved in that killing. But there were other officers who had made remarks recorded on the body cam footage that indicated something quite different happened than what the police department was saying. Could you describe the incident and give us some of the details of what the police said, and then when inevitably came out from this autopsy report?
The GBI [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] and GSP [Georgia State Police] narrative—the state narrative—actually changed a couple of times over the first 24 hours. The initial narrative was that Tort shot first and fired from cover and surprised officers, who then returned fire. Tort was being given direction by officers and opened fire, which, if you've ever watched a police officer react to anything, they're typically not very slow on their triggers. So, one would imagine that if they were holding a gun and brought it up to aim at an officer, that it would have been difficult to get off shots. I'm not saying it's not impossible, and I certainly don't want to take away agency from Tort if they did, indeed, make that decision, it just doesn't seem like the facts are bearing that.
The first autopsy was done by DeKalb County and DeKalb County Coroner's Office who told the family and gave them an early detailed report that Tort was shot over 13 times but provided no further details. And it should also be said at this point, for the state, that the autopsy still hasn't been completed—the write-up hasn't been done. Obviously, they were finished with Tort's body and was then given to the family for the second autopsy. They still haven't provided their autopsy to the state as far as we have been told.
The second autopsy was done by a former GBI Medical Examiner, and that autopsy found that Tort was shot 14 times. The trajectories of those bullet wounds indicated that Tort was seated, slightly cross-legged, and at some point during the shooting raised their hands up facing towards their chest, palms inward. The shooting took place over 10s of seconds, and was quite long if you listen to the body cam footage from the initial burst of fire to the end. That autopsy noted that there was no gunpowder residue, and could have been washed off by the previous medical examiner, but it did say that that was unlikely. And then the body cam footage.
The Georgia State Police SWAT team were the ones who shot Tortuguita, and Georgia State Patrol has no bodycam requirement on their regimen or their troopers, as they call them. Their argument for that is everything that GSP does would happen in front of their cruisers, and since their cruisers have cameras on them, they don't need body cameras themselves. So, that is why there is no body camera footage from the GBI. However, we know that there was a helicopter and a drone in the area—there are some other means of potentially seeing what happened.
What we do have is body camera footage from the Atlanta Police Department's APEX team, which is a specialized team, similar to the Titan team that killed Tyre Nichols earlier this year. In fact, APEX replaced the REDDOG team, which is actually what Titan was inspired by. So, we have a group of APEX officers in the videos and see them clearing tents, and then you hear an initial round of gunfire, and then a very long sustained round of gunfire. The officers wind their way through the woods, and at one point you can hear one of the officers say, "You fucked your own officer up." That was very noticeable, and we tweeted that out the night that the video came out. That prompted Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who was both partaking in that raid, and is responsible for the supposedly independent investigation into the killing of Tortuguita, to tweet out extemporaneous commentary by an officer isn't really evidence of anything.
APD had initially promised to release more videos of what became available, but the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the State's Attorney General Office leaned on the Atlanta Police Department and the law department of the city of Atlanta, respectively, to stop the release of any more videos. So, we haven't had any more videos. But there was another notable aspect of those videos is after the killing of Tortuguita they continued to clear tents, and there was a considerable focus on not having crossfire among the officers, which we had not seen prior to that. It's another point that is indicative they were aware that friendly fire was likely the cause of their officer being shot.
Obviously, this happens over and over again when police do something like this, where they kill some innocent person and change their story because as more evidence comes out they have to reformulate exactly how to save face. This isn't at all surprising.
But what is a bit jarring and surprising is that Tortuguita was quite literally defenseless, sitting and getting shot and killed. There's no evidence to indicate they had a firearm and doing anything that the police could ever use as justification for killing them. It feels like a general escalation against the occupiers of this forest, in opposition to this training center.
After this killing occurred, what was the response of the occupiers? I know there were quite a few arrests. Talk about exactly what happened to the movement after this murder and bring us up more to the present day.
First, we should go back to December 13, when the initial round of domestic terrorism charges happened. There was a raid in the forest, with five individuals were arrested and charged for domestic terrorism. That sparked growing national attention to what was happening before and condemnation for these overbearing charges, which only grew exponentially after police killed Tortuguita.
Post-January 18, there was a massive outpouring of support from some leftist groups nationally. There were groups that were engaged in defending activists from January 20, from Trump's inauguration in 2016, who began pouring in legal support. There were organizers from other national organizations that began to offer organizing help. And, of course, we had the national notoriety and more press providing coverage of this. We also had a tonal shift in local media coverage, which had previously been pretty antipathetic towards activists, and now we're definitely a little stronger in their doubt of the police narrative.
So, those were pretty large shifts in what was happening. Activists had pulled out of the forest and the decision was made to host a week of action. This was their fifth week of action. These weeks of actions have typically been where they try to invite people from around the country who are interested in land defense and things like that, to come down and essentially camp in the woods for a week and do protests, and there's always music raves and things like that. It's a week of fun, and also of protests and things of that nature.
For this fifth week of action, it was the largest one yet, and was called for March 4-11. It marked a return to the forest. On the first day, March 4, people returned and set up camps and is really a joyous day, and definitely with moments of mourning—there's a shine to Tortuguita in the parking lot of Weelaunee People's Park you can't help but see when you come in. People would walk by and recognize what that was, and invariably, they'd stop in a moment of remembrance. It was incredibly touching to see at the time, and still is to this day.
Then they kicked off a three-day music festival, which was arguably the largest draw of the entire week. The centerpiece thing was having this three day music festival with some fairly well-known bands showing up.
That first day, Saturday, went off without a hitch. And then on the second day, the music festival started at noon, and there was a bouncy castle in the middle of the field where it was being held. And that, that to me, sets the tone of this will be a lighthearted, fun day. And it was, for the first five hours or so. Everyone was just kind of enjoying themselves. And then word started to go around camp that there was going to be some sort of direct action.
At about five o'clock, about 200 people gathered and marched from this part of the forest, about a 1.5 kilometers away to where the construction had started, where they were doing erosion control work. They marched that pathway–it's about a 30-45 minute march–and then engaged in sabotage, and any of the infrastructure that was on the site was burned down. And then they returned and sort of dissipated the forests, which sparked an overwhelming police response.
I would say this is, even from 2020, is the largest police response that I've ever seen. Several hundred officers came into the forest and affected arrest what seemed like random. They detained 35 people, and let 12 of those people go, from everything that we understand. Those 12 individuals were locals, and of the other 23, only one was local.
They’ve used the outside agitator narrative—it does seem like they were bluffing the numbers to really drive that narrative. But they charged all 23 of them with domestic terrorism. And it can't be stressed strongly enough how random these arrests were. There would largely have been no way for police to know who had partaken in this activity and who was just there to attend a concert. Eyewitness report that anyone who started to run was arrested, which I don't know if you've ever been charged by police, but your instinct is to run away from an armed individual running.
As I mentioned earlier, in this post-9/11 world, I remember back in the 2000s there was quite a bit of green activism, with some people involved in these movements engaged in various forms of sabotage, arson, and things like this. The FBI investigated them found out who they were, and several of these activists were charged as domestic terrorists under the post-9/11 laws that were passed, and it seems like we're seeing this happen in this situation as well.
Is it true people are being charged because they had mud on their shoes or something similar? The sort of circumstantial evidence they used for why they were up to no good was something about how dirty they were? Am I correct in remembering that?
Yes, mud on shoes or clothing was one of the reasons that was used, and another was they were carrying metal shields. I had seen plastic water barrel shields around the camp because the first day, they anticipated a riot line of police. There were no metal shields that I saw. But for the mud, the day before the week of action kicks off, we had a tornado warning in the city of Atlanta and a massive rainstorm. So, not only are you in a forest, you are in one that has just been drenched by rain, and it is impossible not to be coated in mud and dirt. It's a music festival where people are sitting down on a field that's just been soaked, so you're probably going to come up with some mud.
The evidence is incredibly flimsy, and it was commented by several of the defense attorneys that it seemed like these charges were essentially copied/pasted from one defendant to the other. But definitely indicative of a lack of solid grounds for these charges.
Right. I wonder how many of these charges can be held up in court, though, and how much of this is merely meant to have a chilling effect. With the killing of Tortuguita and the domestic terrorism charges that they're putting on these people, it seems like another intimidation tactic. Is that the general feeling about it?
This is definitely a means to chill the movement. It is meant as a disruptive force, and this is borne out actually by communications from the Atlantic Police Foundation to their board and donors, and the foundation to contractors who are supposed to build this project. They're expecting another round of indictments to come down, and APF told their board that construction will begin when they do. So, whatever the next round of indictments are, they believe that it will be the thing that ends the movement because people will be in jail.
Certainly, this fear tactic is being used by these charges, and I would say most of the charges from Sunday, and probably for many of the previous charges, won't end up having guilty verdicts. But the intent is to stop this in the interim; they don't really care what happens in two years when these go to trial. They want this movement to end—now. Of course, all of these repressive tactics are having the opposite effect and only serving to bring to light what's happening in Atlanta, and bringing national and international attention to it. It's bringing support from national and international forces.
Right. The movement itself is intending to ultimately delay, get in the way, and muck up the construction of this training center. What is the proposed date of the beginning of the deforestation of this region? When is this project meant to be constructed? Could you give a timeline as far as that goes?
I should say the original timeline was for it to open at the end of 2023, or at some point during 2023. The construction was supposed to start all the way back in 2021 or 2022, so all of these protests have had a significant impact on delaying.
In January, they received their land disturbance permit and were able to engage in essentially “phase one” work, which is installing erosion control and things like that. So, there has been some clear-cutting around essentially the exterior of the site to install silt fencing, and some other security measures, but they're not allowed to begin clear-cutting until DeKalb County has come out and seen their erosion control measures and deemed them appropriate, and then they're able to disturb the land, which would be the clear-cutting phase.
At this point, they've said that the process won't begin until after these indictments come. Those emails revealed that happened in February—I'm not sure at this point until we get another batch of emails through an Open Records request showing where it is at. It does still seem like things are on hold until they believe the movement is chilled sufficiently.
Their current projection that they're telling their board is late 2024, and that would bear out with the initial projections. They think a little under two years is how long it would take to open enough of it up to say it's open, or to finish it up.
Right. It's quite remarkable how people are willing to put their bodies on the line and face these charges. Obviously, it's not ideal, and anyone in that situation would be terrified to be detained in that way. The kind of courage it takes to do this is commendable. And there are so many ways in which people can support this movement and speak against it.
I'm curious about what people who are not in Atlanta can do who can't necessarily travel there and support it in a physical sense. I know that you're not a representative of the movement itself, but from what you know, as far as how to support this movement to stop Cop City, what are some of the things that can be done? What can people do to push back against this sort of repression by the police?
Of course, speaking up about it is huge, and emailing contractors—there are offices of these contractors around the world. There's a great resource, Stop Cop City syllabus, that will provide a list of ways to get involved locally, also education resources and whatnot. But financially, there is a fund that goes to the forest defenders and to things like the week of action, called the Forest Justice Defense Fund that is hosted on something called Open Collective. And then there is the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which is the organization that is providing the bail bonds and paying lawyer fees for all the defendants, so if you get arrested engaged in a First Amendment activity here in Atlanta and in Georgia, the Solidarity Fund will help.
It should be said that these domestic terrorism charges have ranged widely. This last batch’s bail costs were only $5,000, and for previous defendants, theirs were $355,000. So, the Solidarity Fund is doing incredible work and will always be an important resource and definitely needs funding. Typically, when activists do fundraisers, it's typically for the Solidarity Fund.
Getting as much support as these people can get for doing this is so important. For a long time, we've had movements that were specific and seemed cloistered in the environmental movement—they're not actually separate, but are seen as being only about specific issues, like stopping clear-cutting and the destruction of old-growth forests and things like this.
This forest in Atlanta, by the way, is not an old-growth forest, but it is a fairly intact ecosystem, and is one of the largest urban forests in the US. So, it's a unique thing which has its own incredible history.
The deeper part of this is to protect the forest, not only for obvious reasons involving environmental concerns, but is also the traditional land of the Muscogee Creek people, too. You look at the history of what happened to them and how they were dispelled and forced off that land back in the 19th century, during what are called the “Indian Wars” with Andrew Jackson—there's a deep history here. That land should not only be defended for the sake of protecting it for the ecology, but also as an act of resistance against the logic of settler-colonialism as well.
This is such a deep, multi-layered concern and issue and intersects with the expansion of policing, the surveillance state, and concerns around climate change and ecology. For a long time, we could have had concerns around policing and environmentalism as almost seemingly separate activist issues. But this is one of those emblematic examples of how those issues are not separate, and overlap in so many significant ways. Defending this movement really should speak to the ways in which these movements and concerns are connected as well.
Yes, certainly. The intersectionality of this, from racial capitalism, to militarized policing, environmentalism, and even housing inequality, is really a bonding point that gave the movement sustainability in its early days. As it's going on, people were being drawn for whatever unique interests that they previously had, coming to the forest and learning how all of these impacts are playing out and expanding their understanding of the interconnectedness. I think you and I would both say that all of these things, and discreetly elsewhere, are all part of the same larger issue, and that is definitely driven home here with this movement and these projects.
Clark is part of the Atlanta Community Press Collective (ACPC), an abolitionist, not-for-profit media collective. ACPC’s goal is to make the day-to-day workings of local government accessible to the public and to provide an independent voice in a local media landscape increasingly dominated by corporate interests.
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