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Lawyer-Organizer Tiffany Roberts: Atlanta Politicians Are Using Mass Incarceration Rhetoric, Approve $90 Million For ‘Cop City’

Lawyer-Organizer Tiffany Roberts: Atlanta Politicians Are Using Mass Incarceration Rhetoric, Approve $90 Million For ‘Cop City’

Roberts

Lawyer-Organizer Tiffany Roberts: Atlanta Politicians Are Using Mass Incarceration Rhetoric, Approve $90 Million For 'Cop City'. Photo: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, right, and Police Chief Erika Shields speak following a press conference in Atlanta, Jan. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The Atlanta City Council recently approved $90 million in funding to build a massive police training facility dubbed “Cop City,” and local community activists including criminal defense and civil rights attorney Tiffany Roberts aren’t too happy.

There had been significant pushback against funding and building the facility. Still, on Sept. 8, the city council voted 10 to 4 to approve the $90-million facility to be built on 85 acres of city-owned land, The Daily Beast reported. The effort had the backing of outgoing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Gov. Brian Kemp. 

Before the vote, Kemp sent a letter to the city council urging them to vote yes for the project. The governor argued that increased training was needed as “residents in our capital city are being plagued by a drastic rise in violent crime.” For many critics, Kemp’s statement and those from other local politicians smacked of mass incarceration rhetoric.

In a press conference, Bottoms, who has supported the project, said that council members who voted in favor of the training center were “courageous” and showed their willingness to make public safety and the morale and retention of the police department a priority.

But community organizers such as Roberts say the facility doesn’t bode well for Black Mecca, a nickname for Atlanta, which is nearly 50.95 percent Black.

Critics of the project say “Cop City” will not address the root causes of crime. Instead, it will militarize Atlanta police and give them more resources that are unlikely to change things for the community, The Daily Beast reported.

“Every branch of city government has turned its back on Black Atlantans in favor of caving to alarmist politics either driven by white fear or capitalizing on inadequate violence intervention resources within Black communities, Roberts wrote in Essence.

Roberts tweeted, “I penned this piece for @Essence grounded in the brokenness from which our City officials perpetually avert their gaze. I was always told not to be weary in well-doing. Atlanta makes heeding that word more difficult by the day.”

In 2020, Mayor Bottoms created the Progressive Agenda Working Group (PAWG) with the goal of creating a “more equitable city.” Through the PAWG, Roberts co-chaired Mayor Bottoms’ Use of Force Advisory Council and helped write dozens of recommendations to address state violence. This included the Atlanta Police Department eliminating its quota-based performance evaluation system in favor of incentivizing alternatives to arrest, made possible by another community-powered program—Policing Alternatives & Diversion initiative. The upcoming “Cop City” was not among the recommendations. 

With the approval of “Cop City, Roberts wrote that the PAWG’s goal of equality is all but lost, and the police project will cater to the fears of the city’s white residents.

Roberts wrote, “The perilous web woven by Atlanta’s Black misleadership class, white wealth, and law enforcement leaves justice-seeking communities weary. Yet we are determined to harness the power we have built until the day our leaders’ courage matches ours.”

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The planned “Cop City” facility will include state-of-the-art explosive testing areas, firing ranges, and a mock city. The Atlanta Police Foundation, a powerful police advocacy group, is the project’s main backer.

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