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Atlanta mayor, DeKalb CEO announce agreement for police training center during chaotic press conference

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Atlanta mayor, DeKalb CEO announce agreement for police training center during chaotic press conference

Protesters gather outside of Atlanta City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 31, ahead of an announcement of an agreement between Atlanta and DeKalb County for the development of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in the South River Forest. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Atlanta, GA — Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, on Jan. 31, announced an agreement to ensure the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center will protect and enhance the environment, spur local business and serve as a community resource.

Several reporters including Decaturish, Georgia Public Broadcasting, WSB radio, Capitol B and WABE were not let into the press conference on Jan. 31 at Atlanta City Hall. Police officers nor city officials informed members of the press waiting that they would not be let in, and did not explain why only some outlets were allowed to attend the press conference.

A spokesperson later apologized to Decaturish, saying, “We made every effort to accommodate all members of the media who were on-site. There was no intent to exclude your reporter from the event, which was open to all members of the media.”

Several protestors also waited outside the mayor’s office and continued their chants. Some protestors remained outside Atlanta City Hall with signs.

The site is planned to be an 85-acre police and fire training facility located in DeKalb’s South River Forest. Activists have dubbed the training facility “Cop City.”

The memorandum of understanding for the project includes 10 recommendations from a community advisory committee, some of which are adding an entrance on Constitution Road, adding public parking, lighting and sidewalks, replacing any trees removed with 100 new hardwood plantings on the site, adding a 100-foot natural buffer and eliminating the proposed explosives range.

According to a press release, the remaining 300 acres of the city-owned land will be preserved as greenspace, parkland and trails. The site will include erosion control for Intrenchment Creek, which is the main waterway in the South River Forest.

“Atlanta and its nonprofit partners will continue to collaborate with DeKalb’s planning and environmental officials working to ensure that the plans and development of the Public Safety Training Center strictly adhere to all federal, state, and local environmental standards,” the press release states. “Atlanta will encourage contractors and subcontractors to use sustainable materials.”

During the press conference, which Decaturish watched via live stream, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the site will be a “vital piece of infrastructure” that will serve the city’s police and fire departments training needs and be a community asset for residents.

“Today, I am pleased to report that we have reached an agreement with DeKalb County to issue the construction permit and move this project forward,” Dickens said.

The site will include an emergency vehicle operations course for police and fire driving, academy housing for police and fire recruits, a fire department burn building, stables and pastureland for mounted patrol, and a kennel and training facility for the police department’s canine unit, Dickens said.

To read the mayor’s full remarks, click here.

Activists have been calling on the city of Atlanta and DeKalb County to not move forward with the project. Several activists attended the press conference on Tuesday with signs calling to “Defend the Forest” and “Stop Cop City.” Some of their chants included “No Cop City, no compromise,” “We will never compromise. This is how democracy dies,” and calling on the mayor to resign.

According to a press release from activists opposed to the project, the police training center has already failed. Here is the full press release:

As national attention and pressure builds, the City of Atlanta, Dekalb County and Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) now claim to have reached a “compromise” between themselves on Cop City. There is no such compromise: this project is failed.

What trust can exist between Atlanta residents and these agencies now? The APF are attempting to hastily push through a sequence of land disturbance permits which would allow contractors to clear 171 acres out of a total 381 acres of forest. If Dekalb County Planning & Sustainability signs off to approve, there will be nothing holding them to this “compromise”. Except for the movement, of course.

They are attempting an old trick. The city has lied about the Cop City acreage before. In August 2021, when Atlanta City Council delayed their vote on Cop City, the APF claimed a similar “compromise:” instead of clearing the 381 acres they are leased by the City of Atlanta, the APF would reduce the footprint of buildings and impermeable surfaces to only 85 acres, while more of the land would be cleared and turned into turf fields, shooting ranges, horse stables labeled  “greenspace.” Nothing in the lease agreement was binding regarding this promise, and quickly the land disturbance permits shifted — nearly doubling to 171 acres. Like all other points of “compromise,” this has proved empty rhetoric to cover over the undemocratic railroading of this project on to un-represented, disenfranchised residents of Atlanta and Dekalb County.  This is more backroom talk between powerful elites and their dark money contributors, but the “Atlanta Way” is no longer acceptable to the people of Atlanta.

Now, the City, Dekalb County, the APF, the funders and builders of Cop City collectively have blood on their hands, and it seems they are willing to get bloodier: these are the people in power goose-stepping us to climate apocalypse. Police continue to kill at higher and higher rates. In 2022, more people in the US were killed than in any other year on record. The APF cartel and their allies have used lies, misinformation, and distorted half-truths at every step of this process. Why should we believe a word they say?

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens cries crocodile tears on Twitter about Tyre Nichols’ brutal murder, whines about a broken bank window — all the while giving his quiet approval to the killing of Tortugita for his own police’s militarized facility. This is no surprise: the Memphis police chief is from Atlanta, and oversaw APD’s REDDOG unit when they killed Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old Black woman. In the immediate aftermath of Tortugita’s killing at the hands of GSP, Andre Dickens spat in the face of Atlantans by announcing he would direct city funds to subsidizing police housing, while everyday residents struggle with skyrocketing rents, evictions and housing displacement. Real estate developers and cops are prioritized for city handouts while the rest of us left to struggle for scraps.

Those who are responsible for this project have blood on their hands and guilt on their faces. It’s clear to the world who is responsible for climate change, and who protects them as they rake in record profits at our expense. Power concedes nothing without a demand. Ours is, “Cop city must never be built – not here, not anywhere. Not one blade of grass! Not one tree! Free the prisoners, drop the charges!”

— Cancel Cop City completely.

— Reverse the land theft of Intrenchment Creek Park.

— Drop the charges against all protesters. Turn over evidence to the family of the protester killed by police.

The fight continues. The movement to stop cop city is only growing. Over 1,300 groups have signed on to a statement calling on Andre Dickens to resign. Over 3,000 groups and individuals have signed onto a statement of solidarity, which calls for Cop City to be cancelled entirely. On February 19 – 26 we are calling for a Week of Solidarity to Stop Cop City, with protests throughout the US and around the world. We are winning, but we have not won.

Tuesday’s announcement about the training center occurred amid an ongoing investigation of an officer-involved shooting near the site. On Jan. 18, a police officer shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Teran, 26 during a raid.

A State Trooper was also shot and wounded during the confrontation. Teran is accused of shooting the trooper with a gun purchased in 2020. There is no body camera footage of the incident, and the trooper has not been identified. District Attorney Sherry Boston recused herself from reviewing the findings of the investigation because her office is part of a multi-jurisdictional task force of law enforcement agencies working to remove activists from the site.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is continuing to investigate the shooting, even though the GBI is also part of the task force.

The task force members are the GBI, the Atlanta Police Department, the FBI, the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, the DeKalb County Police Department, the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, the Georgia State Patrol, and the Department of Natural Resources.

On Jan. 26, Gov. Brian Kemp called up 1,000 National Guard troops and declared a state of emergency in response to protests against “Cop City.”

Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this article.

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