The muggy Social Sciences 2 classroom overflowed with students coming together to express their dissent toward ‘Cop City.’ When there were no more seats to be had, students sat on the ground. 

The floor was now theirs. 

The event on Oct. 6 was one of more than 70 similar speaking events set to take place around the country about ‘Cop City’ and what is being done by protesters to stop it. 

‘Cop City’, officially known as the Atlanta Public Training Center, is an approved plan to build a $90 million police training facility on 85 acres of the Weelaunee Forest in DeKalb County. The facility will have a mock city, shooting ranges, and Black Hawk landing pad. 

The objective of the event was to inspire a nonviolent mass action demonstration in the Weelaunee Forrest from Nov. 10-13. City on a Hill Press spoke to a source who has requested to remain anonymous, citing concerns following the mass arrests of activists in Atlanta.

“The goal is to counter the state’s attempt to inflict fear upon the movement,” the source said. “The goal is to mobilize the mass amounts of people who are sympathetic to the movement.” 

Activist-oriented students and student groups, such as UC Divest and the Student Housing Coalition, opened the talk with statements of solidarity. Students were eager to learn from the movement in Atlanta and apply those lessons toward other issues and generate interest in other causes including but certainly not limited to: protests surrounding an upcoming APEC conference and protests in San Francisco, a San Pablo cop campus, and UCSC’s inadequate handling of the student housing crisis.

“I think it’s nice to see a community of radicals here at UCSC come together,” said Ella Chapman, a third-year history and critical race and ethnic studies double major.

Protests and Suppression

At a time when many are calling for less reliance on police, an attempt to build a $90 million police training facility has spurred protest coalescing around the Weelaunee Forrest. 

The struggle against Cop City is multifaceted. On one level, many dedicate themselves to sabotaging building equipment and harassing contractors and stakeholders with the aim of pushing them out of the project. Others are focused on pursuing civic action through petitions and ballot initiatives. The forest has also become a gathering spot for many to connect with each other and peacefully protest the construction. 

Taken together, the actions have delayed the start of construction that should have been finished by the end of this year.

The efforts have not been without consequences, however, as people continue to mourn the death of environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Terán. Terán was shot 57 times by law enforcement while living in a Stop Cop City encampment.

Another 42 people have been accused of domestic terrorism in connection with resistance to ‘Cop City’, which can carry up to 35 years in prison in Georgia, even for non-violent offenses. An additional 61 people have been indicted in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) indictment, as the state attempts to characterize the protest movements as something akin to a political syndicate. In a statement following the RICO indictments on May 31, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp stressed this point in a statement following the arrests.

 “We will track down every member of a criminal organization, from violent foot soldiers to their uncaring leaders,” Kemp said. “We will not rest until they are arrested, tried and face punishment.”

Kody Cava spent the month of September in Atlanta participating in the movement to stop ‘Cop City.’ He explained the chilling effect that government suppression has had on the ground in Atlanta.

“There was this sense that, since those mass raids that happened in the forest, people were afraid to go back there,” said Cava. “It’s this mix of being afraid since all of the RICO charges and domestic terrorism charges, but also this drive to want to get back out there.”

The Land

The Weelaunee Forest is also a place whose history is inextricably linked to many iterations of American oppression. Initially, it was home to the Muscogee nation until they were displaced along the Trail of Tears to make way for plantation slavery. Following the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, the land was used as a prison farm with slavery-like conditions

Forest sprouted from remains of the past. Now, part of that forest is gone, chopped down to make way for ‘Cop City,’ Cava spoke to the feelings on the ground.

“Yeah. It hurts,” said Cava. “I feel it in my chest. This sinking feeling.”

In 2017, Atlanta’s City Council approved a plan to make the Weelaunee Forest, including the land that is now intended for ‘Cop City,’ a green space for underserved communities in Atlanta. The area would serve residents of DeKalb County, of which 54.6 percent of residents are Black.

[PULLOUT: A green space is a vegetative area reserved for parks and recreation in an urban community.] 

Chris Mathura, co-lead intern for the People of Color Sustainability Collective, spoke about the importance of these spaces for communities like DeKalb County. 

“There is already a huge lack of environmental spaces in black and brown communities,”  Mathura said. “They tend to be food deserts and less green areas, which studies have shown is connected to mental health [issues].”

Instead of becoming a green space, the city granted the land to the Atlanta Police Foundation, a corporate-funded non-profit, to construct ‘Cop City.’ 

Those attending the event certainly desired change. The event had an invigorating effect on attendees like Ella Chapman not just in regards to ‘Cop City,’ but injustice wherever it lies.

“It inspires me to see the movement happening in Atlanta and seeing us come together and to see the passion that we have for radical movements,” Chapman said. “We are doing the work on campus. Now, we can build a stronger community, learning the lessons from Atlanta to make change here.”

Editor’s Note: Chris Mathura was previously a City on a Hill Press staff member during the spring of 2022.