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Nov 15, 23

Report back on Jail Vigil outside DeKalb County Jail following ‘Block Cop City’ Mobilization

Report back on recent noise demo in solidarity with those arrested during recent ‘Block Cop City’ mobilization in so-called Atlanta, Georgia.

On Monday, November 13th after the mass action to Block Cop City in Atlanta, there was a press conference and jail vigil at the Dekalb County Jail, where many people arrested in affiliation with the movement have been brought and spent significant time. Jail vigils and noise demos have been an important part of Atlanta autonomous action for a number of years, especially at Dekalb County Jail where in 2019 a struggle formed around the inhumane conditions within its cell walls. People held captive there have become intimately aware of the stop Cop City movement because of the incarceration of activists there. While no one was arrested at the Block Cop City action, one person was arrested off site while playing a support role, and three people had been arrested over the weekend.

Initially, an altar was built across the street, kitty-corner to the jail, with snacks and food provided. Speakers included Block Cop City spokespeople, long time defend the Atlanta forest activists, and one of the people who had been arrested over the weekend and released before the vigil. The person who had just been released spoke during the press conference to the brutality they witnessed or heard reports of within the jail, from mold covering the walls and unclean water to reports of a female inmate beaten to death by guards. The marching band was present alongside some media. As people walked up to the vigil, passing the jail, people locked inside who had busted out their windows chanted, “Stop Cop City!,” and those below returned their chants, alongside chants of, “Free them all!,” and, “We love you!”

A few hundred feet down the street from the vigil, and directly in front of the jail, about 45 minutes into the press conference that accompanied the vigil, a projectionist began projecting “STOP COP CITY” on the side of the jail. When three Dekalb County Sheriff’s vehicles pulled up to harass the projectionist, 30 or 40 people from the around 100 person crowd ran to their assistance, surrounded them to protect them from the cops, and began fierce chants of, “The whole world hates the police,” and “Quit your job!” After a few minutes of being drowned out by chants the cops pulled away. Throughout the night, however, there was heavy police presence, with cars stationed across the street and constantly pulling past the group, every few minutes or so. Their presence seemed to only anger and embolden the crowd.

People were frustrated to be across the street from the jail and have the vigil on the opposite corner, so after the projectionist was protected and the crowd was feeling bold, someone got on the mic and encouraged the crowd to cross the street and relocate to directly in front of the jail, about 30 or 40 feet of lawn and hedges separating the vigil from the walls of the building. Vigil attendees and and incarcerated people traded chants of “we love you” and “we love you too.” At least 5 windows had been busted out from the inside and people waved cloth flags out of them. The energy was extremely high, the marching band with crushing renditions of Bella ciao, the crowd was amped and chanting, the people inside were throwing toilet paper out the window covering the trees below them. The people inside were yelling about jail conditions and what they needed, the fact that there is no hot water and they aren’t being fed enough. Despite the weight of the messages, the power of direct communication swelled people’s spirits.

Then a line started dropping from one of the windows, with a bag tied to the bottom. Instantly the crowd knew what was necessary and assembled cigarettes, pizza, and water bottles for the folks inside. Initially, people were thinking of trying to move the entire 120 person or so crowd across the lawn and to the building to fill the bag and protect people participating, but it was taking too long and a heroic attendee darted from the crowd and filled the bag with the goodies, before disappearing back into the center of the safety of the crowd, being shielded by those around them.

The bag was raised and brought into the cell. Then another bag dropped, and this time a group of six people made the run for it together and loaded it up, before similarly returning to the protection of the crowd. The police then finally approached after the third bag was dropped, and began clearing out the stuff that had been dropped from the windows and cut down the line. As they passed in front of the crowd, people chanted things like, “Burn the jails, burn the prisons, just make sure the cops are in them.”

A beautiful night of spiritual connection turned into an opening towards material solidarity in an unprecedented turn of events because of the courage and innovation of a few people locked inside the jail and a few people attending the vigil, supported by the entire crowd. From starting the vigil on the opposite corner, to crossing the street to confront the cops harassing the projectionist, to the whole crowd reassembling directly in front of the jail and supporting a few heroes in helping get food and water inside, the arc of the vigil was a spiral of collectively inspired escalation, and progressive expansion of what the crowd believed it’s power to be, and what it was able to do. This capped off, of course, an entire weekend of empowerment and strength cultivated through the trainings and spokescouncils in preparation for the Block Cop City action, in which hundreds of demonstrators confronted riot cops near the Weelaunee forest, pushed their line back until they deployed tear-gas on themselves and scattered, and escaped without a single arrest. Energy was riding high, and the actions grew bolder and bolder. We’ll see where jail vigils go from here.

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