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Cop City and the Impending American Police State

Photo courtesy of Mathias Reding and

The development known as "Cop City" is still making heat in Atlanta, stirring controversy, and sparking passion from individuals and organizations alike. The concept of building a nearly $100 million centralized, law enforcement training center within an Atlanta greenspace began more than a year ago, and critics say it represents a significant threat to communities.


At the core of the dispute is the fundamental issue of public safety versus civil liberties. Proponents of Cop City say centralizing law enforcement resources would improve police coordination and response times and boost the city's ability to efficiently tackle crime. A dedicated facility outfitted with cutting-edge technology and resources would dissuade criminal activity while providing officers with the tools they need to better protect the community. Critics warn, however, of the project’s impact on civil liberties and community-police relations. 

"Building a Cop City sends an aggressive message to residents, particularly communities of color, that their neighborhoods are under siege."

Before the facility is even open, the Atlanta justice system is already attacking protestors’ civil rights over peaceful demonstrations. Atlanta resident Julia Dupuis blasted local courts for imposing an ankle monitor in the weeks leading up to a  June trial for hanging flyers protesting the facility. In 2022, the FBI labeled Cop City opponents, who include indigenous, environmental, and racial justice activists, “anarchists” and “environmental violent extremists.” State troopers shot and killed 26-year-old Manuel Paez Terán during while evicting people peacefully protecting the forest from construction workers.


In addition to the increasingly aggressive behavior of law enforcement and the justice system, many critics see the concept of a widescale police training facility as another example of the nation’s militarization of law enforcement at the expense of more productive policies, such as education and community involvement. Militarization, they say, funnels community investment and resources from programs tackling the underlying causes of crime, including poverty, addiction, and a lack of opportunity.


Law student, civil rights activist, and community organizer Michael Herskind warned BGX the Cop City construction is also a warning sign to low-income neighborhoods and other minoritized groups that already find themselves over-policed.


"Building a Cop City sends an aggressive message to residents, particularly communities of color, that their neighborhoods are under siege," Herskind said. "We must reject the notion that militarization is the answer to addressing systemic issues of crime and inequality."


Herskind added police militarization with heavy guns, aggressive ground enforcement tactics and a litter of imposing army vehicles further erodes trust between law enforcement and the communities they purport to serve.


"By investing in heavily fortified infrastructure, we risk further alienating marginalized communities and deepening existing divides," Herskind said. "True public safety requires building bridges, not walls, between law enforcement and the community."


Outside the danger of police militarization, legal experts and civil rights advocates worry Cop City could erode civil rights and due process with increased surveillance, and it could aggravate politicians’ unsettling embrace of jack-boot ethics.


Economics inserts itself and further aggravates the situation. Some of Cop City’s biggest supporters include real estate developers and businesses who see the massive facility as a financial boon to growth. Construction on such a massive scale, they hope, will attract additional investment and encourage redevelopment in neglected areas. Many low-income residents say developers don’t have to live in Atlanta, however, and will not have to deal with the economic bomb that could hit neighborhoods. Grassroots organizations and community organizers worry the project would inevitably displace medium and low-income long-term residents and aggravate gentrification.

Herskind accused Atlanta officials of steamrolling voters and property owners while pushing to develop Cop City.


"Too often, decisions about public safety are made without meaningful input from the communities directly affected by them,” he said. “We need to prioritize community-driven solutions that address the root causes of crime and empower residents to play an active role in shaping their own futures."


As the Cop City debate unfolds in media and the courts, it’s more important than ever for policymakers and community leaders to heed the will of people, rather than indifferent top-down approaches to development.


C. Dreams is an advocate who writes and lectures about prison and criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, harm reduction, and government and cultural criticism.


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