December 23, 2022 7:00am

Leave before you get hurt, say Power Poll respondents to Cop City protesters

Plus, your favorite Atlanta holiday tradition is...

Photo of Steve Fennessy
Atlanta, GA Correspondent

For well over a year, there has been a more-or-less constant occupation of a patch of forest in south DeKalb County. The occupiers are mostly in their 20s, and they hail from all over the country—Maine, California, Wisconsin, etc. Depending on the time of year (and presumably the temperature) their numbers can range from a handful to many dozens. Some have built platforms in the tree canopy and stay dry under tarps and cook meals on portable stoves. When reporters come by, the protesters are suspicious and secretive, and identify themselves with names like Rutabaga and Twig. Some are environmentalists, some are police abolitionists, and some, if you agree with Gov. Brian Kemp, are part of a “criminal network” that is using violence to protest the planned development of the land into “Cop City.”

Cop City, of course, is not the development’s real name. So far, the facility doesn’t really have a name, although the Atlanta Police Foundation, which leased the land from the city and is raising the $90 million to build it, refers to it by the very anodyne label “public safety training center.” No wonder “Cop City” has caught on. In any case, the center would, at 85 acres, be one of the largest of its kind for a municipal police force. For comparison’s sake, as the New Yorker’s Charles Bethea reported in August, New York City’s police force, which is 15 times the size of Atlanta’s, makes do with a training facility that spans just 30 acres.

What would Atlanta police (and fire) do there anyway? Well, there are plans for the kinds of things you’d expect. Like a shooting range, classrooms, a horse barn. There are also things that might not have occurred to you, like a nature trail, a kennel, a mock city, a skid pad, and something called an EVOC, which the Internet explains is short for Emergency Vehicle Operator Course, or basically a track where first responders can learn to drive safely in emergency situations.

Cop City was first championed by Keisha Lance Bottoms, when she was mayor. When she announced the facility in early 2021, she said it would improve morale in a police force that had seen dozens quit during the tumultuous summer of 2020. “It looks as if we don’t value public safety in the city, and so I think this is going to help with our recruitment efforts,” she said. But almost two years later, the protesters have dug in, almost literally, at the site. Their arguments against locating the facility here range from the symbolic—the land was originally stolen by settlers from the Muscogee Creek indigenous people—to racial—the land borders a primarily black neighborhood, and really, who wants to live next door to an outdoor shooting range? The protesters’ opposition is occasionally militant: some have vandalized police cars, resulting in arrests. But the charges were nothing like the ones recently brought up against five protesters, who are facing domestic terrorism charges for allegedly throwing rocks and bottles at police cars and EMTs, per a spokesperson for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Atlanta, of course, has a rich history of protest and disobedience. So we were curious to hear what Power Poll respondents felt about the protests. Are these protesters honoring the tradition of civil rights pioneers like Martin Luther King Jr and John Lewis, or are they just troublemakers? Most respondents (69 percent, to be precise) seemed to agree with Dunwoody police chief Billy Grogan, who wrote that “there is a distinct difference between peaceful protests and the acts of violence, intimidation, and property destruction that are being carried out by these individuals.”

On a happier note, it’s the holidays, and we wanted to know what your favorite Atlanta Christmas tradition is. Far and away, we seem to prefer the Atlanta Botanical Garden's light show (which continues through Jan. 14, by the way). One respondent reminded us that we left off a very popular option: Illuminights at Zoo Atlanta. Apologies are in order. That remarkable display of Chinese lanterns continues through Jan. 15. Check it out if you can!

Happy holidays, and here’s to a healthy and properous new year to all.

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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