Atlanta City Council Votes to Fund Controversial ‘Cop City’ Project

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

Atlanta City Council members voted early Tuesday morning to fund a controversial police training facility, breaking with hundreds of community members who spoke against the facility throughout the overnight council meeting.

Council members voted 11-4 to fund the project, following more than 14 hours of comments from hundreds of speakers. The funding vote represented one of the best chances at blocking the facility, nicknamed “Cop City” by opponents who decry the project as an expensive and environmentally destructive bid to further militarize Atlanta’s police force.

The 5am vote approved over $30 million in construction costs, plus an annual $1.2 million—an expected but disappointing outcome for opponents to the facility.

“What meets us in this moment is immoral and undemocratic,” Rev. James Woodall, a public policy associate at the Southern Center for Human Rights told council members during Monday afternoon testimony. He and other Cop City opponents have accused the city of rushing the project toward approval, against the wishes of Atlanta residents.

The Monday afternoon session came at an especially fraught moment of the project.

Last month, the Atlanta Community Press Collective revealed that Cop City costs stood to balloon far beyond the city’s estimated $30 million price tag, A Sunday report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calculated “the actual cost to taxpayers for the facility is expected to be more than double what officials have continually said,” based on a review of public documents. Much of the additional spending comes in the form of annual $1.2 million payments to the Atlanta Police Foundation, the organization managing fundraising for the facility.

Atlanta Activists Are Racing to Stop $33.5 Million ‘Cop City’ Funding

City officials disputed this characterization, claiming the payments are budget-neutral, as Atlanta currently pays a similar annual lease for its current police training facilities.

Speakers at Monday’s meeting were also incensed over last week’s arrests of three activists who’d run a support fund for Cop City opponents. Prosecutors accused the trio of financial crimes for using the Atlanta Solidarity Fund to buy things like yard signs and camping supplies. The activists’ lawyer defended the small-dollar purchases as part of the Solidarity Fund’s work supporting the protests, many of which have taken place in a forest that would be cut down to make room for the police training facility.

The arrests inspired criticism from civil rights watchdogs, who connected them to dozens of similarly controversial cases against anti-Cop City activists. More than 40 people have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges in connection to property damage at the proposed construction site. Many of those cases are thinly evidenced, with defendants being arrested based on proximity to the Stop Cop City music festival, or on the basis of having muddy shoes.

In one instance, the crackdowns have turned deadly. In January, police shot and killed activist Manuel Paez Terán, while Terán was in a tent on the site of the proposed construction. Police accused Terán of shooting at them, a claim that has been complicated by a pair of autopsies suggesting that the 26-year-old did not shoot.

Others who testified on Monday and Tuesday said they feared the project would contribute to the over policing of Atlanta’s Black community.

One man described taking his young daughter to preschool and observing places where the city’s money might be better spent.

“On our way to daycare in the morning, we sing songs as I try to avoid the potholes that have been there for years. I drive by neighbors waiting at bus stops with no benches, no shelters from the rain. We see unhoused neighbors and community members sleeping under makeshift shelters and we see cop cars cruising our neighborhood all day, every day. I’ve been harassed on more than one occasion by the cops in my neighborhood. They make me feel the opposite of safe,” he said.

“Spending $60 million taxpayer dollars on a new police training facility is the most heartbreaking, reckless, and quite frankly anti-Black thing this city has ever proposed in my lifetime. I cannot believe I’m standing here pleading for you to not spend tax dollars of a Black city to tear down a forest in a Black neighborhood, to increase the policing and caging of more and more Black people.”

A woman who said she lives hundreds of feet from the construction site, said the project is already a headache.

"I have been harassed, intimidated, interrogated, and followed, and had to tell an officer to turn off his flashing blue lights because I had to sleep,” she testified. The officer, she said, was sleeping in his squad car.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.