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The Impacts of Cop City, Atlanta Imogen Aley



Cop City in Atlanta is exactly what it sounds like. Over 300 acres of mostly forested land has been leased to the Atlanta Police Force to build a police training facility for weapons testing, police training, and militarization of the Atlanta police force. There will be multiple shooting ranges, military-weapons testing sites, and helicopter launching pads. A quarter of a billion dollars has been allocated for this project by the Atlanta City Council, claiming that it is necessary to improve police morale and control the rising levels of violent crime. ‘Cop City’ has been a hot topic in local government for years, and has finally been given the green light from the City Council, despite Atlanta’s history with police brutality against people of color and strong opposition from activists and environmentalists. Now, with the recent murder of an environmental activist by a police officer, people from outside Atlanta are finally starting to take notice. What does this police training facility mean for the future of the surrounding environment and those that live nearby?

The land in which the mock city will be built was previously owned by the Muscogee Creek people in the 1800s, before it was stolen by colonizers and used as a plantation. This land was then reformed to the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, where slave labor was used to grow produce to sell to as local products. It is currently being used as a shooting range. Of the 300 acres leased to the Atlanta Police Force, 85 acres will be dedicated to the training facility. Though this may not seem like a lot, environmental impacts are not isolated and there will be consequences for the surrounding area and those living near the forest.

The forests are not only the lungs of our planet; they provide vital ecosystem services that protect our societies from climate change and support a wide diversity of ecology. Atlanta’s forests are essential to locals. Atlanta’s temperatures are rising much faster than other cities with the onset of climate change and so replacing the forest with dark pavements will increase the temperatures even more. These pavements will also increase the likelihood of flooding in a city that is already plagued by floods. The city operates on a combined sewage system, so the sewers get overwhelmed with storm runoff and discharge ends up flowing into streams and rivers. Even without an increase in paved roads, Atlanta is experiencing more tropical storms that previously only affected coastlines.

Removing forest cover will have consequences to the ecosystem, but testing military-style weapons will also increase pollution in an area that is already heavily polluted. The creeks that will run through the training center are tributaries of the South River, which have been labeled as “one of the nation’s most polluted waterways”. The facility’s weapons testing sites will be uphill from a tributary that drains into the South River, meaning that anyone in contact with the river could be exposed to heavy metal and toxic chemical pollution from weapons testing, especially since much of the farmland and local fishing relies on the South River.

There is also a lot of opposition from social justice activists who worry that the location of the training facility will increase police brutality against Black people in a city that has a history of systemic racism from its police force. This new training facility would also carry the historical context of being built on a farm that exploited primarily Black people for prison slave labor. Almost half of the population of Atlanta is Black, so the environmental and social justice concerns are not isolated since minority communities are already at a higher risk of facing environmental problems.This facility could increase police brutality, and increase environmental consequences. When viewed through a lens of intersectionality, this is an issue of social justice and environmental racism. Pollution runoff and flooding events will predominantly affect Black populations simply because of the demographics and political imbalance in the city.

The people of Atlanta are not taking this lightly. There have been many demonstrations by activists protesting the facility and funds have been raised to support these groups. Some groups, on the other hand, have taken a more radical approach. Environmentalists, dubbed as the “Forest Dwellers” have taken to living in the forest as a way of protecting the trees marked to be cut down. There have been many alterations among these groups and the police force, but so far the Forest Dwellers have been successful in slowing down the construction of the facility. This is an ongoing battle, and one that is vital for the people of Atlanta and their environment. Construction of this facility can, and will, cause an incredible amount of harm.


Citations:

1. Stop Cop City, “What is Cop City”, https://stopcop.city/ 

2. Charles Bethea, “The New Fight Over an Old Forest in Atlanta”, The New Yorker 08/03/2022 https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-the-south/the-newfight-over-an-old-forest-in-atlanta 

3. Emma Hurt, “Cop City Gets a Green Light”, Axios Atlanta 02/01/2023 https://www.axios.com/local/atlanta/2023/02/01/cop-city-gets-a-green-lightatlanta 

4. Defend the Atlanta Forest, “Atlanta is a City in a Forest” https://defendtheatlantaforest.org/ 

5. Tyler Estep, “Forest or dump? Trees, pollution coexist on training center site”, The Atlanta Journal Constitution 11/11/2022 https://www.ajc.com/neighborhoods/dekalb/forest-or-dump-trees-pollutioncoexist-on-training-center-site/SF7GHRDYA5DYNPLHTUVUYUDX2M/ 

6. “Trees offer many benefits, but their impact on the environment might be the most important” Georgia Forestry Commission https://gatrees.org/learnexplore/environmental-benefits-of-trees/ 

7. Ray Levy Uyeda, “Atlanta community members warn of environmental damage from ‘Cop City’”, Prism Reports 06/15/2022 https://prismreports.org/2022/06/15/atlanta-environmental-damage-copcity/ 

8. Tyler Estep, “‘Forest defenders’ use extreme tactics in fight over training center” The Atlanta Journal Constitution 08/12/2022 https://www.ajc.com/neighborhoods/dekalb/forest-defenders-use-extremetactics-in-fight-to-stop-cop-city/CQCJHWEYWZBATPEX5ZKA6IRVYM/ 

9. “Atlanta City, Georgia” United States Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/atlantacitygeorgia 

10. Wayne Butler, “Research shows weapons testing at new police facility could expose public to toxic chemicals, contaminate urban farm and South River” Mainline 07/14/2021 https://www.mainlinezine.com/research-shows-thatweapons-testing-at-new-police-training-facility-could-expose-the-publicto-toxic-chemicals-contaminate-urban-farm-and-south-river/ 

11. Timothy Pratt, “‘Assassinated in cold blood’: activist killed protesting Georgia’s ‘Cop City’” The Guardian 01/23/2023 https://www.theguardian.com/usnews/2023/jan/21/protester-killed-georgia-cop-city-police-shooting 

12. Aja Arnold, “ATLANTA POISED TO APPROVE MASSIVE POLICE TRAINING FACILITY DESPITE PUBLIC OPPOSITION“ The Intercept 08/11/2021 https://theintercept.com/2021/08/11/atlanta-police-training-center/ 

13. Kendall Glynn, “Cop City explained: A look at the ongoing controversy surrounding police training center”, Decaturish 09/01/2022 https://decaturish.com/2022/09/cop-city-explained-a-look-at-the-ongoingcontroversy-surrounding-police-training-center/




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