May 1, 2023, New York – In response to the intensifying crackdown on the movement seeking to Stop Cop City/Defend the Atlanta Forest, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:
We stand in solidarity with the activists enduring mounting state violence and repression as they seek to protect their communities and natural resources from the corporate-funded, militarized police training compound known as Cop City. The police, acting on behalf of Atlanta's corporate elite and the politicians they sponsor, have attempted to quash the resistance movement. They have failed.
In the tradition of historic social justice movements, some activists have engaged in civil disobedience, camping in the forest imperiled by Cop City. The crackdown in response to this activism escalated in January after Georgia governor Brian Kemp formed a federal-state-county-city task force that has launched raids and arrested protesters. On January 18th, officers sprayed gunfire at a closed tent, killing forest defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, who was sitting with their hands raised. As the movement grows, so does the repression. The police are dispatching SWAT teams to confront people handing out flyers, among other First Amendment-protected acts, and have charged 42 activists with domestic terrorism.
Protesters with Defend the Atlanta Forest are only the latest to face terrorism charges for their human rights activism, be it for advocating for the environment, racial justice, or Indigenous sovereignty. Georgia prosecutors are using a law that passed in response to the 2015 massacre in a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, by white nationalist Dylan Roof, which expanded the definition of “domestic terrorism” to include property crimes. Notably, Georgia also amended the law to define activism against oil and gas pipelines (described in the laws as “critical infrastructure”) as “terrorism” in line with the right-wing group ALEC’s national proliferation of its model legislation designed to criminalize dissent against corporations. We have seen over and over again that these laws are primarily turned against communities of color.
Cop City is a reaction to the 2020 uprisings against police violence. In Atlanta, after an officer killed Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, activists demanded divestment from the police and investment in the kinds of services, systems, and infrastructure projects that actually strengthen and protect communities. Instead, the city’s politicians, captured by corporations, responded by bolstering police infrastructure, most notably with Cop City. Corporations are providing the bulk of the funding for the $90-million, 381-acre behemoth. Then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom asked Cox Industries CEO Alex Taylor to lead a capital campaign for the project. Taylor chairs the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a major Cop City supporter that also includes executives from Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Koch Industries, Chick-fil-A, and Mercedes Benz.
Cop City would include a mock city for rehearsing urban warfare, and while the city claims the initial plans for explosive-testing areas and a Black Hawk helicopter landing pad have been removed, there is nothing in the lease that prevents them from being reintroduced. While its backers bill Cop City as a public safety necessity, research shows police spend little time responding to calls or solving crimes; instead, they prioritize making traffic stops of people of color. Community Movement Builders, one of the groups spearheading the resistance, says Cop City’s purpose is to “stop mass movements and continue the harassment of Black poor and working class communities.” To add injury to injury, the forces behind Cop City chose for its site the Weelaunee Forest, Atlanta’s largest remaining green space, a precious ecological and spiritual resource. The facility would desecrate nearly 100 acres of land that is adjacent to a Black working-class community that was promised the land for walking trails and park space.
The mobilization against Cop City exhibits the interconnectedness of varied struggles for social justice, uniting community-based Black collectives with Indigenous environmental groups, prison and police abolitionists with economic justice and peace activists. Opposition to Cop City also includes the support of neighborhood associations, schools, and healthcare workers. Cop City backers like Kemp have cited the participation of people from elsewhere to claim that this organic local effort consists of “outside agitators” – a time-honored tactic of reactionaries attempting to discredit social movements and undermine solidarity.
Law enforcement and government officials, corporate spokespeople, and others will continue to attempt to smear protesters as “terrorists,” “rioters,” and “outside agitators.” Do not fall for it. This is a righteous struggle for justice against a cadre of elites hellbent on preserving white supremacy and their own power at the expense of the public good. We are proud to support this struggle, and we encourage all advocates of racial, economic, and environmental justice to do the same.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.