Filed under: Action, Anarchist Movement, Environment, Featured, Land, Police, Repression, Southeast
Report from the streets of Atlanta, as community members mobilize against repression of forest defenders as the State moves to attack the movement against Cop City. For more background on the struggle, see our interview with Kamau Franklin of Community Movement Builders.
Just under 200 people gathered in East Atlanta Village on December 17th, 2022 to demonstrate their solidarity with six people accused of domestic terrorism. Those six people are allegedly connected to the autonomous movement opposing Cop City as well as the Blackhall/Shadowbox Studios sound-stage complex expansion orchestrated by former CEO Ryan Milsap. The movement, commonly associated with the slogans “Stop Cop City” and “Defend the Atlanta Forest,” has opposed progress on these developments for a year and half, demonstrating surprising flexibility, innovation, and diversity.
Aside from traditional street marches and rallies, community members, activists, faith-based groups, and others have protested outside of the mansions of CEOs contracted to deforest the area — known as the South River/Weelaunee Forest; the largest section of the urban tree canopy — as well as engaged in cultural events, canvassing efforts, and nonviolent acts of sabotage against machinery. Some people have set up encampments on the grounds of the respective pieces of land, which are conjoined to one another by the South River. Responding to requests from local community groups for help, a number of people have come to help organize from other parts of the country, similar to unionization efforts, or the well-known historical precedent of the “Freedom Rides” in the fight for Civil Rights.
On several occasions, local police departments have attacked encampments, or have escorted deforestation contractors into the forest. In some reported instances, those on-site have been compelled to physically defend themselves from these attacks, responding to the pepper balls, drones, helicopters, and heavily-armed and masked SWAT teams with little more than sticks and stones.
THE POLICE ADVISE THEIR ADVOCATES TO PUSH A FALSE NARRATIVE
This movement has successfully halted forward momentum on the projects for over 7 months. On December 13th, just two days before the police-appointed “Community Advisory Stakeholders Committee” meeting, a large operation took place in the Weelaunee Forest. This operation brought together the Atlanta Police Department, the Dekalb County Police, and the Department of Homeland Security under the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. This inter-agency operation resulted in multiple park-goers and pedestrians facing detention and harassment by law enforcement personnel who stand to personally gain from the completion of Cop City. By the end of the day, at least 5 people were arrested, some of them from tree sits, and charged with domestic terrorism as well as “felony” trespassing. The next day, on December 14th, at least one more person was arrested and charged similarly.
According to the magistrate judge, the accused are a part of a “group” that is called “Defend the Atlanta Forest” (NOTE: no such group exists; although there is a submission-based social media platform and website by that name), and that “group” has been classified as a “Domestic Violent Extremist Group” by the Department of Homeland Security. This is an internal classification by the agency; it is not a legal classification and it is not subject to review of public input. Because of this, and because a few of the protesters have ID’s with out-of-state addresses on them, the Dekalb County Assistant Chief of Police Tyus told the “Community Advisory Stakeholders Committee,” that this was proof of the “terrorist” nature of the accused. He encouraged the police-appointed Committee to “push that narrative” in order to influence public perception of the charges and the movement. Legal experts claim there is no legal basis for the charges. It is not clear if lawsuits have been initiated against the City, County, and associated institutions yet, but some say they may come soon.
WE ARE ALL FOREST DEFENDERS
Among those gathered to support the arrested individuals included activists from local activists groups such as Community Movement Builders, local pre-school teachers, area parishioners, abolitionist organizations, and legal observers. Some gathered said they had joined the movement over the course of the year because of the concerns about police militarization and racism, others about gentrification and the sale of public lands, others about issues related to climate change; some gathered made statements about the projects specifically as they relate to the history of colonization and the legacy of forced-removal of the Muscogee (Creek) people from this specific piece of land in the 1820s by former US President Andrew Jackson.
All of those who spoke highlighted the generic nature of the charges against the accused individuals. Specifically, many activists reiterated, the Police Foundation (who hope to build Cop City) believe that protesters who live in encampments in the forest are emblematic of the entire movement; thus, charges against them are meant to intimidate the entire movement. After perhaps 45 minutes of declarations of support for the accused, the crowd marched through East Atlanta Village past many homes and businesses.
For around an hour, residents and motorists stopped what they were doing to clap and cheer for the crowd from their porches, vehicles, or place of business. Some people in the movement is requesting that Brasfield & Gorrie, the general contractor for Cop City, drop it’s contract with the Atlanta Police Foundation. Some are requesting that all donors to the Foundation — including Wells Fargo, Equifax, UPS, Delta, Home Depot — as well as all of the subcontractors for Brasfield & Gorrie — including Stake Center Surveys, LS3P, Atlas Technical Consultants, Eberly & Associates, and more — also cancel their contracts with the general contractor until they leave the Cop City development. On April 25th, 2022, Reeves+Young, the previous contractor for the project, dropped their dealings with the Police Foundation. They were replaced by Brasfield & Gorrie.
To learn more, visit defendtheatlantaforest.com
To support the accused, visit atlsolidarity.org