They say all the trees in a forest speak to one another. Root to root, a connection is made beyond each individual tree and between forests. 

The roots of the old-growth trees that touch us also connect to the roots of the trees in the Weelaunee forest in Atlanta, Georgia. These urban woodlands have become a topic of controversy as a result of months-long protests.

City officials call it the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Atlanta residents, who overwhelmingly oppose its construction, call it Cop City.

The Atlanta Police Foundation’s website says that the $90 million center will “improve morale” and “reimagine law enforcement training.” It will also have a mock village for police to practice raids in. Add this on top of the Atlanta Police Department’s already existing shooting range, and one can start to understand why Atlanta residents are fed up.

There’s nothing transformative about building a law enforcement training site on an old prison farm. If anything, it’s just a repetition of history — a story we are all familiar with now.

Though Santa Cruz is almost 2,500 miles away from Atlanta, we at City on a Hill Press understand the fight against Cop City and what it represents: a battle for Indigenous grounds, for a forest to be protected, for a community to keep itself safe.

These struggles hit close to home. The redwoods surrounding us are our home, and people here have fought hard to protect them.

In fall 2007, when the university planned to cut down 120 acres of old-growth forest as part of an upper campus development plan in the campus’ Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), people began to occupy the trees themselves. Inspired by tree-sitting protests at UC Berkeley, UCSC undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and other community members rallied to show their support.

And, just like the Weelaunee Forest protectors in Atlanta, LRDP protesters were met with police batons and pepper spray. Supporters who only wanted to bring blankets, water, and food to those in the trees weren’t spared either.

For centuries, the Weelaunee Forest was home to the Muscogee Creek People until their displacement, beginning in 1830. In December 2022, the Muscogee trekked back to Weelaunee for the first time in two centuries as an act of protest against Cop City.

Project planners say that the center will take up 85 acres, with another 315 acres being used as publicly accessible green space. But Weelaunee Forest is already an accessible green space, and it doesn’t need a man-made makeover.

Cop City continues a legacy of institutional violence against people, plants, and the planet.

For Atlanta, the forest is considered to be one of the ‘lungs’ of Atlanta, and its primary defense against climate collapse. Today, the community immediately surrounding Weelaunee Forest is predominately Black, and they want to #StopCopCity.

Atlanta’s Black residents cite concerns including increasing police militarization and brutality. Cop City will also add more police presence and surveillance to Atlanta’s pre-existing Operation Shield, an approved 2007 proposal to fund 10,000 surveillance cameras, in addition to license plate readers.

Earlier this month, 23 protestors defending Weelaunee Forest were arrested, charged with domestic terrorism, and most were denied bond. One protestor, Manuel Paez Terán, known to Weelaunee protectors as “Tort,” was shot and killed by Atlanta police officers on January 18.

Tort had spent six months with other #StopCopCity activists before over a dozen gunshot wounds made Weelaunee their final resting place. According to an autopsy report released by their family, Tort died in a meditative position: sitting on the ground, legs crossed, and hands up.

The forest gave Tort peace, but, even before opening, Cop City has introduced the sound of gunfire to the woodlands.  

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