Will ‘Cop City’ Shortcut the Political Future of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens? Opposition Gains Steam

Will ‘Cop City’ Shortcut the Political Future of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens? Opposition Gains Steam


FILE - Mayor-elect Andre Dickens of Atlanta speaks with reporters after attending meetings at the White House in Washington, Dec. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The debate over the necessity of Atlanta’s controversial “Cop City” is heating up, and protests are growing by the day. Although Mayor Andre Dickens adopted the $90 million project when he took office, his time as mayor is being defined by the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which has been dubbed “Cop City.”

By the time Dickens was sworn in as mayor on Jan. 3, 2022, “Cop City” was basically a done deal. Just recently the city has finalized its multi-million dollar investment in a massive and militarized law enforcement training center, despite a majority of residents being against it.

The Atlanta City Council voted 10-4 on Sept. 8, 2021, to sign off on the police training facility, which will sit on nearly 400 acres of forested land. The deal had the backing of outgoing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Then-incoming Dickens was also on board, while 98 percent of residents local to the area who responded to a survey opposed the plans, Daily Kos reported. Some oppose the planned military-style training of police set to take place at the facility, others are protesting the costs, while others are protesting the facility’s environmental impact.

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Since then, there have been major protests. The city is trying to figure out to handle the growing number of protesters–and it has resulted in tragedy. On Jan. 18, 2023, an operation to remove protesters from the forest where “Cop City” is to be built resulted in the death of activist Manuel Terán and the injury of a Georgia state trooper.

Still, the project is moving forward. On Jan. 31, Dickens and Dekalb County CEO Michael Thurmond announced that the project had secured the final permit necessary to begin construction. This sparked more protests at City Hall.

Now, students at Atlanta universities have been protesting the facility and Morehouse‘s ties to the Atlanta Police Foundation. On Feb. 2, Morehouse College faculty issued an open letter calling on city leaders to cancel the police training facility known as “Cop City.”

Amid all the backlash, Dickens recently announced a compromise.

Dickens and Thurmond announced changes to the planned Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, claiming their compromise would protect the environment, spur local business and serve as a community resource.

“Our development partner has committed to replace any hardwood tree that will be destroyed in construction with 100 hardwood trees for each one, as well as replacing invasive species with hardwoods,” Dickens said, GPB reported. “So the site will include double erosion control to ensure viability of Intrenchment Creek, the main waterway in the South River Forest Basin. The site itself will have greenspace open to the public, featuring trails, ball fields and picnic areas.

According to the mayor, the facilities were necessary for officer training but would offer additional uses, such as “a pavilion and accessible meeting spaces for the community.”

“The city of Atlanta has the most extensive training requirements in the Southeast,” Dickens explained. “Our training includes vital areas like de-escalation training techniques, mental health, community oriented policing, crisis intervention training, as well as civil rights history, education. This training needs space, and that’s exactly what this training center is going to offer.”

The mayor said a 100-foot tree buffer would be added, and that 100 new hardwood trees would be planted for each one destroyed during construction, Common Dreams reported.

But activists aren’t impressed with the compromise proposal.

There is a concentrated effort to stop Cop City called Stop Cop City (SCC), whose goal is to stop construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.

FILE – Mayor-elect Andre Dickens of Atlanta speaks with reporters after attending meetings at the White House in Washington, Dec. 14, 2021. Atlanta is submitting a formal bid to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, Dickens announced Friday, May 13, 2022 to Democrats holding their annual state party dinner.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)