We Can't Afford To Ignore Cop City

In These Times Executive Director Alex Han asks us to imagine a world where the needs of the people outweigh the powerful.

Alex Han

Environmental activists hold a march on March 4, 2023 through the Atlanta Forest slated to be turned into the police training center dubbed "Cop City." Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

I originally wrote this editorial hoping to connect a few dots: I wanted to expand and explain the various links between this issue’s cover story (on the challenges to the rise of a new Tennessee, artfully written by Henry Hicks IV) and last month’s heartbreaking feature (by Bryce Covert) on the impact of overturning Roe v. Wade. Our other new feature story (a searing investigation by Andrei Popoviciu) reveals how border enforcement in the West is being pushed deeper into the developing world, and I wanted to emphasize how the forces at play there are the same ones that are enriching themselves from attacks on our cities and public sector here. 

Fourteen hours of public comment, during an Atlanta City Council meeting in the first week of June, changed that plan. 

I’m talking, of course, about the fight to save the Weelaunee Forest, also known as the South River Forest, in DeKalb County, Georgia, which would be an important struggle at any time, for any purpose. Destroying a natural environment described (in a 2017 report by the city’s planning department) as one of Atlanta’s four lungs” seems like a misguided choice for any kind of development, but especially so as wildfire smoke was choking much of the Eastern Seaboard.

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The vote by the Atlanta City Council to fund the expansive police training campus known as Cop City — made in the wee hours of June 6 to the tune of $67 million, after an unprecedented 14 hours of almost universally opposed public comment — raises serious questions not just for Atlanta residents, but for all of us. Will our cities and our natural environment only serve those who need to impose order to protect their wealth? Or, in the wake of a global pandemic and facing an uncertain climate future, can we imagine a world where the needs of the people outweigh the needs of the powerful?

The powerful interests that want Cop City built have escalated their tactics on every front. On May 31, a SWAT team arrested three organizers associated with a bail fund that had been supporting Stop Cop City protesters, and major corporations like Chick-fil-A and CocaCola have been coming out of the woodwork to financially support the project.

Will our cities and our natural environment only serve those who need to impose order to protect their wealth? Or can we imagine a world where the needs of the people outweigh the powerful?

Critically, Atlanta’s Democratic power structure has shown itself willing to deliver solutions playing to the fears of a small, elite class, even if it means subverting the will of the city’s Black residents. (A survey conducted by Emory University in March found a plurality of Atlanta’s Black residents oppose the project.) As Republican governors and their gerrymandered right-wing supermajorities ignore their constituents’ material needs while attacking free speech and transgender youth across the country, the Democratic leaders of Atlanta have seen fit to cast aside any pretense of community input and democracy to serve the ongoing militarization of police. 

Who needs Republicans when you have Democrats like this? 

In this moment, the great danger for those of us on the side of democracy and humanism isn’t to overreact; the great danger is that we undersell and ignore just how relatively normal” the circumstances are that have allowed Cop City to move forward.

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Alex Han is Executive Director of In These Times. He has organized with unions, in the community, and in progressive politics for two decades. In addition to serving as Midwest Political Director for Bernie 2020, he’s worked to amplify the power of community and labor organizations at Bargaining for the Common Good, served as a Vice President of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana for over a decade, and helped to found United Working Families, an independent political organization in Illinois that has elected dozens of working-class leaders to city, state and federal office. Most recently he was executive editor of Convergence Magazine.

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