Protect the Protest Solidarity Letter with Atlanta Forest Defenders

The community-led resistance to stop the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest in Atlanta and prevent the creation of a militarized police training facility — known as the “Stop Cop City” effort — has made its opposition known through every constitutionally protected measure available. Since 2019, nearby residents, members of the Muscogee Creek Nation (the original inhabitants of the land), surrounding community members, and their broad array of supporters have given public comment at city council meetings, filed petitions and lawsuits, marched and held rallies, hosted educational events, engaged in civil disobedience, and made it clear that this project would destroy a segment of forest critical to maintaining climate resiliency and perpetuate long-standing environmental racism against Atlanta’s predominantly Black population. 

The recently approved $90 million militarized training compound would bring large capacity shooting ranges for heavy weaponry and a mock city for police to train in urban raids and other tactics in a community where people live and raise families, attend school, work, and recreate. 

Despite facing clear and thoughtful opposition, the State of Georgia has continually used repressive tactics to harm and instill fear in protestors. To date, 42 people have faced domestic terrorism charges (most of whom were attending a music festival), Tortuguita, an environmental defender, according to an independent autopsy were seated with hands raised when they were shot and killed, and three respected community members who provide bail support to activists were arrested after having their homes forcefully raided. In the case of the three bail support members, the judge stated he didn’t find the case for arrest “very impressive” and granted bond over the prosecution’s objections. 

Lauren Regan, Director & Attorney with CLDC, one of the many civil rights organizations supporting the activists resisting Cop City observed that the, “unfettered abuse of power and total disregard for the community’s public interests has resulted in the first assassination of a land defender by law enforcement in modern U.S. history, the first unsubstantiated and unconstitutional prosecution of Georgia’s domestic terrorism statute, and repeated unlawful arrests of activists attending a music concert, leafleting on public roadways, or otherwise exercising their right to oppose an authoritarian training ground.”

Atlanta activists have previously expressed concern that these escalations by the State may signal intention to use RICO charges as Georgia’s RICO statute designates that “acts of domestic terrorism” can be used as a proof of a “pattern of racketeering activity”. 

In response to the State of Georgia’s escalating tactics, Greenpeace USA Democracy Campaign Director Folabi Olagbaju said, “these arrests are a ploy to silence protesters that have been engaging in protected speech, and part of a pattern of police overreach designed to cut legal and community support to anyone that tries to speak out against Cop City. Protest and speech are two of the best tools we have to fight for a livable planet.”  

The Protect the Protest coalition, composed of more than 30 civil liberties, social and environmental justice organizations was founded to support individuals and communities that resist the use of illegitimate judicial bullying tactics designed to limit free speech and silence those that speak out and stand up for themselves, their communities, and the places they call home. Our coalition understands that the community resistance is led by those who would be directly and irreparably impacted by Cop City. Their community safety would be shattered by the loss of ecology critical to their wellbeing in the face of climate change and the presence of a militarized urban-warfare facility that would only serve to escalate tensions and abuses of power by police emboldened by practicing urban raids in a facility designed to replicate the surrounding neighborhoods.

Our coalition was founded with the understanding “that an attack against one is an attack against all.” If the Weelaunee forest is destroyed and replaced by a militarized police training compound it would be with blatant disregard for Atlanta residents’ concerns, their engagement with democratic processes to voice those concerns, and would serve as a template for the creation of more and more of these types of facilities across the United States; a dystopian trajectory. 

As such, our coalition members demand that the Atlanta city council respect and honor the wishes of its constituents and revoke the permits for the project and preserve the Weelaunee forest for community recreation, ecological resilience, and in recognition that militarized police training facilities do not make communities safer. In addition to revoking permits for the project, it is clear that the domestic terrorism charges are a form of legal abuse and we demand that the Georgia State Attorney General’s office drop all such charges.

We stand with the residents of Atlanta in their opposition to this socially and ecologically destructive project and against the suppression of free speech   perpetrated by the Atlanta Police Department and others who refuse to respect the  will of residents, neighbors, individuals and families who know Cop City will have grave impacts on their communities for generations to come. They also know that this fight is not isolated to Atlanta alone as it will serve as a space to train law enforcement from across the U.S. in these militarized tactics. We urge everyone to write to the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Andre Dickens to put pressure on them to #StopCopCity and #DefendtheDefenders.