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Cop City Is Only the Beginning, Unless We Fight

“This is a global struggle against fascism,” says Jasmine, an Atlanta organizer.

Part of the Series

“This is a global struggle against fascism, it’s a global struggle against the militarization of the police and state violence against folks whose dissent is being oppressed,” says Jasmine, an organizer in Atlanta. In this episode of Movement Memos, host Kelly Hayes talks with authors Alex Vitale and Stuart Schrader about the frightening trajectory of policing in the United States. Hayes also talks with Chicago activist Benji Hart, and Jasmine, an organizer in Atlanta who is engaged in the struggle to Stop Cop City.

Music credit: Son Monarcas and David Celeste

TRANSCRIPT

Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to Movement Memos, a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. Today we are talking about escalations in policing in an era of crisis and catastrophe. How will the ruling class seek to control us in an era when we will have more and more cause for rebellion? We have seen one answer in the rise of urban warfare training facilities for police. In Chicago, Atlanta, and elsewhere, we are seeing a push to build police training facilities that amount to domestic military bases – spaces that include mock urban settings where police can rehearse the suppression of protests and the pacification of communities. Today, we are going to talk about these developments, as well as the movements that have sprung up to oppose them. This is the final episode in our four-episode arc marking the release of Let This Radicalize You, in which we have delved into topics that Mariame Kaba and I explore in our book, which was recently released by Haymarket Books. As Mariame and I describe in the book, we are seeing an escalation of crackdowns on dissent and new laws aimed at suppressing protest, in the United States and elsewhere. While the militarization of police is not a new phenomenon, we are living in extreme times, and as the world burns, and capitalism attempts to cut its losses, people will have more cause than ever to organize, take to the streets, and disrupt the machinery of capitalism. As the pandemic has taught us, corporations, billionaires and the federal government are willing to grind people under, en masse, to keep that machinery moving. So it’s important, in this moment, to examine the power grabs of the police state — whose forces are always ready to seize more money, more tools of destruction, and more resources, on the basis of any fear mongering narrative that might serve those ends. Traditionally, corporations have supported those efforts by making large donations to political candidates who serve their agenda — putting corporate profits and property above human life, liberty and decency as a rule. But as we have discussed on this show, democracy has outlived its usefulness for many in the corporate class, and monied forces have been making more direct moves to purchase the policing they want. In the tradition of company towns and police departments like the Pennsylvania State Police — an entity that was created in 1905 to serve as a publicly financed strikebreaking force – corporations are working to ensure that the core purpose of policing — the maintenance of order and profit — is prioritized above all else.

In this episode, we are going to hear from Alex Vitale, the author of The End of Policing, as well as Stuart Schrader, the author of Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing, about the current trajectory of policing in the United States. We’ll also be hearing from organizer, author and performing artist Benji Hart, and Jasmine, an organizer in Atlanta, about how organizers have worked to oppose the construction of mega police training facilities — and what you can do to support those efforts.

Micah Herskind, who was previously a guest on Movement Memos, recently wrote of the battle over Cop City, “It is a fight over who the city belongs to; over who Atlanta is run for and who it is run against; over who is welcome to live and enjoy life here, and who is expected to simply labor here for low wages and under constant surveillance.” That piece came up in my conversation with Alex Vitale about how we should understand the ongoing struggle to stop the construction of Cop City, and its larger context.

Alex Vitale: Part of what’s so important about Micah’s analysis is that it doesn’t try to understand policing in some kind of self-contained vacuum. And this is, of course, the mistake that so many liberal reformers of police make, that the violence is a product of bad training or poor implementation or something. So Micah forces us to think about the ways in which policing is a tool of political elites to achieve other ends.

And Atlanta is such an interesting case. It’s a city that, in a way, suffered dramatically from white flight, but retained this central downtown business district that often seems largely just to facilitate big conventions or whatever. And the city for decades has struggled to try to figure out how to remake itself in ways that retain the value of that downtown real estate that’s, of course, owned by major corporations and important real estate developers and all the rest.

And it has used policing to put a lid on the fact that they don’t really have a plan to provide broad-based economic security for the people of Atlanta, that the people increasingly who own central Atlanta and who make wealth off of central Atlanta don’t live in Atlanta and don’t have the shared interest in the overall wellbeing of the broad base of citizenry that has been excluded from the processes of racialized suburbanization.

And so what we’ve seen is these real estate interests and corporate interests plowing money both into political campaigns to shape the political leadership of the city and into things like the police foundation to beef up law enforcement in ways that are fundamentally undemocratic, that bypass the normal procedures of legislative budgeting that might tend to actually be concerned about the wellbeing of communities more broadly than just downtown real estate interests.

And so the whole move towards Cop City, the whole move towards framing opposition as an act of terror, the escalation of violence is really a kind of act of desperation by elites in Atlanta trying to head off any kind of broad-based democratic control over their vision of an evermore unequal Atlanta.

I think the other really interesting element of this struggle is of course the questions of land use and its relationship to environmental protection. So this is not quite the same as trying to preserve rainforests and complex ecological habitats.

However, I think that this is bringing to the fore the importance of land use struggles in any kind of long-term agenda for mitigating the climate crisis. And as long as corporations retain this ability to get the state to transform land in ways that benefit capital at the expense of the environment, then we are going to continue down the pathway to self-destruction. So I think it’s entirely appropriate to link intensive policing, undemocratic land use processes with the issue of climate change.

KH: This idea of policing as a means of putting a lid on the fact that a government has no plan to provide broad-based economic security will be a familiar one to many of our listeners. Some of you have no doubt been experiencing this first hand in your own communities for years. But in an era of economic upheaval and environmental havoc, we should anticipate much more investment in policing. I also appreciated Alex’s framing of these developments as being pitted against democracy. Because what we are witnessing is part of a larger move toward corporate dominance. As our interests increasingly run counter to those of corporations, who are strip mining the world for resources, ramping up global temperatures, and further consolidating wealth amid extreme inequality, corporations cannot assume that simply throwing money at elections will be enough to ensure the outcomes they want. For that, they have to bypass electoral theatrics and the uncertainties of a democratic process altogether, and pay for the policing they want, as we saw with the escrow fund that allowed Enbridge to pay for the policing of Line 3 construction and the corporate investments we are seeing in Atlanta’s Cop City.

AV: There is some level of democratic engagement there that acts as some level of check. But of course, that’s why the corporations and real estate interests try to go around it through things like these private police foundations that exist in Atlanta and many cities that operate mostly in secret. We find sometimes that legislators aren’t even aware of the amounts of money changing hands, what’s being purchased with this money. So there’s no real public or democratic accountability. And that’s, of course, the point, is to avoid those kinds of democratic checks and balances.

KH: In his book, Badges without Borders, Stuart Schrader examines the evolution of counterinsurgency tactics throughout the Cold War, as the U.S. assisted regimes around the world in suppressing movements that challenged the interests of capitalism. Counterinsurgency, as a means of pacification that upholds the status quo, has always been about preserving the functions of capitalism and preventing the formation of alternatives. Over the years, imperialism and Cold War proxy fights have provided the United States with the opportunity to hone tactics that would also be deployed at home for the same purpose — to maintain capitalism in the face of instability and social upheaval. The War on Crime in the U.S. facilitated these aims, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore describes in her book Abolition Geography, writing:

The more that militant anti-capitalism and international solidarity became everyday features of US anti-racist activism, the more vehemently the state and its avatars responded by “individualizing disorder” into singular instances of criminality—which could then be solved via arrest or state-sanctioned killings.

In my conversation with Stuart Schrader, I was especially interested in how counterinsurgency is evolving and manifesting itself in this political moment, as police push back against a crisis of legitimacy fueled by high-profile police violence, abolitionist politics and popular uprisings against policing.

Stuart Schrader: I think we’re seeing a set of police training facilities being proposed across the country for a few different reasons, both kind of national and even international reasons and highly local reasons. On the local side, I think in Atlanta and Chicago and other places, we see elected officials who are trying to shore up their own legitimacy. They’re, oftentimes, feeling like they are under a lot of pressure, both from the left and the right, from working people of color and from generally white elites who have very different demands. And the idea that they seem to be settling on to on the one hand, try to reduce crime and disorder. And on the other hand, mollify some of the critics of police abuse is in the end, police training. Now, the idea that police training is going to actually solve any of these problems from either perspective, I think, is a little bit of a stretch to say the least, but it’s a sort of crisis management tool, legitimacy enhancing or at least hoped to be legitimacy enhancing tool.

I think on the national or international side, there’s a few trends happening. One is simply we’re in the period after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of people in military and other security sectors have really just a need to find a new job or a new line of employment. I think there’s a kind of supply-side police and military-style police training glut. So these people are pushing for new ventures. Obviously, they know that there’s a lot of money available for police training. And the idea that the United States is going to be investing in the counterinsurgency type of training that was quite common for basically the past two decades after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started. That’s over. Obviously in the kind of big grand strategic sphere, everybody is talking about the risk of war with China, and obviously I hope that’s not the case, but war with China looks a little bit different in the strategic planning than trying to put down the insurgency in Iraq.

So those folks who had for decades been investing in developing their expertise in tactical training skills for counterinsurgency are just now looking for new ways to apply their trade. I think nationally what we see with police, in general, is post-2020, a kind of divergent set of responses to their own crisis of legitimacy. On the one hand, there’s a kind of doubling down on their feelings of victimhood, the sense that rank-and-file police are being disrespected and are being constrained by Black Lives Matter and other types of protest movements. So they’re looking for ways to reassert their power and authority and sense of freedom and discretionary ability to police the way they want to police. And then on the other hand, you have the police commanders who to some degree recognize that there is a severe problem happening with police tactics and operations that has caused these protests, but they’re somewhat limited in their ability to reshape policing.

And this has always been the case for police reformers, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, they’re really quite limited in what they can do. And so they constantly just return to this refrain of more training, more training, more training. And obviously training also includes new types of technologies. And when the problem that they’re up against is, on the one hand, violent street crime that they’re always claiming to be up against, but also a newly invigorated and creative set of protest movements across the country, that also becomes an objective of their training. And I think that’s one of the things that the Cop City facility in Atlanta has galvanized people because it seems to be designed to train police how better to deal with, control, undermine, suppress protests. And that is only causing people to find even more creative and daring ways to protest, including of course, occupying the forest where it’s slated to be built.

One of the things about the Atlanta proposal of Cop City is that it’s meant to draw police from around the country and even around the globe, and this is another kind of trend that we’ve seen before, but I think is increasingly common, which is the idea that various municipal police training facilities can have a much wider audience for their training and bring in police from across the country or even across the globe. I think that the idea there is that there might be some money available for these training facilities if, basically, you can imagine that they can more or less charge tuition to police from outside the city who might be wanting to come there. So it becomes a kind of revenue stream, and that in itself has some kind of perverse incentives.

I think that if we look at the past few months, beginning in January, certainly with the killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, the killing of Tortuguita in Atlanta, the arrest of journalists who are trying to cover various environmental crises and incidents like the train derailment in East Palestine, we see an accretion of events. Now, any one of them on its own, of course, fits a pattern that we’re familiar with. Certainly since 2014, 2015, the killings of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray, which spurred the Black Lives Matter mobilization across the country and even globally, we’re familiar with these types of incidents of grotesque police violence.

But at the same time, it does feel like there is a certain kind of crisis that we’re facing right now where the protestors as well as the journalists who are trying to report on protests are being targeted. Again, this isn’t new, but we’re seeing what feels to me like a bit of an acceleration and an intensification, the commonplace collapsing of crime and sort of political subversion, something that’s been a feature of American kind of law and order discourse for decades and decades. It really hasn’t gone away. And if anything, it’s becoming more common. And we see this even just in the past few days with protests in response to the vigilante killing of Jordan Neely in New York City, where protesters are going onto subway tracks in a form of civil disobedience, and there are demands for their arrest. And of course, police and NYPD officers have been affecting arrests, and it turns out that people who are there arresting are protest organizers, people who have a long history of protesting against the police.

So it feels targeted. So it’s just to say that none of this is totally new, but it does feel like we’re living through a kind of ratcheting up of this intense control of protest. And I would just say that it might be worthwhile for us to think about incidents like the killing of Tyre Nichols, which doesn’t have any obvious political content in the sense that it wasn’t related to political protest, but we should see it as part of a broader pattern of police trying to reassert their power in cities, of being given a sort of mandate or remit to be somewhat unleashed in their discretionary tactics to kind of solve any potential problem of crime and disorder by any means necessary. And that’s basically the same way that a lot of these political protests, it seems to be, are being met, and the response has become so intense and ferocious, at the same time as the reasons for protest, whether against mass shootings and gun violence, against environmental catastrophe, or against any other number of social injustices.

Police are not taking their foot off the gas in any sense in terms of their rapid and forceful response to protest and their intense effort to reassert their power across our cities. It feels to me like after 2020, police have been trying as hard as possible to reassert their power. They’re doing it in a variety of ways. Some of them are internally contradictory because different cities, different fractions within policing have different goals and objectives, but they’re all kind of united in this common sense that they need to reassert their power and brook no opposition.

KH: That common goal is particularly clear in Chicago, where the police function as a political entity unto themselves and often position themselves in opposition to city leadership. Most recently, police have been accused of allowing violence to play out unchecked, in response to the election of progressive Black mayor Brandon Johnson. While threats of mass resignations have not materialized since Johnson’s election, there have been reports of police ignoring violence in progress and blaming Brandon Johnson’s election for their inaction. These efforts to control who runs our city are especially disturbing, given the openly fascistic nature of U.S. policing and the fascist politics of Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara.

One of the most egregious examples of police power grabs in Chicago in recent years is also tied to one of the most memorable abolitionist organizing campaigns in recent history in our city: the struggle known as #NoCopAcademy. My friend Benji Hart was an organizer on that campaign. Benji is an author, artist and educator currently living in the Woodlawn neighborhood of the South Side of Chicago. I was interested in their take on the rise of facilities like Atlanta’s Cop City and Chicago’s Cop Academy, and what lessons they took away from a powerful campaign that ultimately did not prevent the city from funding a militarized training facility for police.

Benji Hart: I think as folks have already said very poignantly, definitely these academies and pretty extreme escalation of policing, police militarization and funding are all definitely responses to the uprisings of 2020 and the sort of mass spreading of calls to defund and abolish police. Those are becoming much more widespread and even mainstream demands and certainly mainstream discussion points. So I think pointing to the uprisings of 2020 and these new very terrifying police training facilities popping up around the country is definitely an important connection to make.

I also think, though, that these things were definitely in the works before the uprisings of 2020, Chicago being a prime example. The announcement of the cop academy being built here happened in 2017 and the No Cop Academy campaign ran from 2017 to 2019. So I think there’s a trajectory that we’ve been on that the doubling down on these projects is certainly a result of 2020, but it’s not the only factor and might not even be the primary factor.

I think for me, I think a lot about the ways the political class, the 1% is having many of the same conversations that we are, is aware of many of the same crises that we’re aware of, climate change, a mass impoverishment of the vast majority of the globe at the same time that a small population gets more wealthy than any group of people have ever been in human history, houselessness, lack of access to health care in the midst of a global pandemic. They’re aware of all the same crises that we are aware of and see many of the same things coming that we do.

And I think what we’re really in the midst of, and again, have been for longer than many of us might realize, is a struggle between the ultra wealthy and ultra powerful and the vast majority of poor and working people on the planet, and the question of will the crises that we see on the horizon be dealt with through militarization and by policing, surveilling and incarcerating the vast majority of the planet so that the ultra wealthy and ultra powerful can maintain their hold and can maintain their access to resources while the rest of us lose more and more access.

Or is the answer to these crises, will the answer to these crises be the mass redistribution of resources, the guaranteeing of housing, the guaranteeing of health care? Will we actually use the resources at our disposal to open access to the things that we know people need and will increasingly need as these many global crises continue to compound? Or will we do the opposite? Will we accept that these crises are inevitable and just police who has access to the basic things that they need as these crises compound?

So I know that’s a very big, very large scope to take, but I think we need to talk about policing and the struggle against it in this very large global context and understand that these fights are so important because they’re not just about one community, they’re not just about one jurisdiction, they’re not just about one city or country. They’re about how we as a collective want to see our world be shaped and whether we will let the political class, let the elites do that shaping for us or whether we will demand the things that we know we need and deserve and that all people can have access to when resources are properly distributed which we know they are not in this current moment.

I think there are lots of lessons to take from these many struggles that have happened and are happening against these police academies and against policing more broadly. I think for me, speaking as a Chicago-based organizer, I think we in the No Cop Academy campaign learned the importance of fighting on multiple fronts in the street, doing direct action as well as engaging with city hall as well as talking to elected officials as well as canvassing and community building on a neighborhood level. And I think there’s important lessons to be gleaned there about what it means to actually take the creed “by any means necessary” seriously and really think about not ceding any territory in terms of our local political landscape.

I also think, in that it becomes clear that there’s no way for one single group or organization or community to be able to fight on all fronts. We need wide, broad coalitions, which is particularly challenging in hypersegregated cities like Chicago. Chicago is not unique in that being a key facet of our political landscape. So it behooves the political class, it behooves the elites for us to be limited by language barriers, for us to be limited by borders, for us to be limited by race and class and cultural differences, and to refuse to work with communities outside of our own immediate community and to see the struggles that are happening in other parts of the city or with other demographics as separate or siloed from our own.

I think effective battles against policing, understand that policing, militarization, incarceration, surveillance are a global issues. While the bodies or the names of the organizations or offices that target our communities might be different, fundamentally the same thing is happening in Black and brown, immigrant, non-immigrant, poor working communities, again, all throughout the globe. We are seeing that our struggles are being curtailed, controlled and attempted to be obliterated precisely because for there to be the liberation of our communities, there has to be an end to policing and militarization, for us to have access to the things that we need to survive, which again become increasingly more urgent as new crises compound.

For us to have that access, there has to be an end to policing, there has to be an end to militarization, and those resources have to be distributed. It’s not a question, it’s a complete necessity. So in order for us to effectively do that, we have to be working together. In Chicago that was really difficult because we are such a segregated city and because there’s such intense racism and classism between different groups and different geographies throughout the city. But for me, I think that was one of our greatest successes.

Even though we were not able to stop the Cop Academy from being built, that we were able to create a broad coalition of multiracial, multi-generational coalition from all sides of the city was I think one of our biggest successes and I think laid the foundation for the uprisings of 2020, gave us some of the infrastructure that we needed to succeed effectively in the uprisings of 2020 a year later, which of course, none of us predicted at the time that No Cop Academy lost in 2019.

So I also think there’s a lesson there about these campaigns laying the foundation, giving people language and analysis and creating relationships that may be laying the foundation for much bigger, broader fights that we can’t even predict, even when in the moment we might feel like we’re losing or at least not achieving the original goal that we set out for. The foundation that we might be laying for future battles is so important, so crucial, such a key facet of organizing and is not always visible or not always clear in the moment what it is that we’re actually laying the foundation for.

But it’s all the more reason to do that work, to create those relationships and overcome those barriers because you never know in the future when those might be life-saving relationships and connections and shared understandings. And I think this is something that the Stop Cop City organizers are doing really incredibly. Creating coalitions or even just working with groups and demographics that you might not have previously or that it might not have even have made sense to previously.

Even when there’s tension and even when those relationships aren’t always smooth or easy or idyllic, the fact that they exist and the fact that communities that were not in conversation with each other are, and the fact that organizations that were once doing siloed work are together raising the Stop Cop City demand and together fighting action again on multifaceted fronts, on very different fronts throughout the city and throughout the political spectrum, that’s actually a huge success and something to be admired and replicated.

KH: Something I also appreciate about the movements we are seeing against police violence is that while they are local struggles, they are also deeply connected, nationally and even internationally, through statements and acts of solidarity. Benji experienced this connectivity firsthand, as organizers from the No Cop Academy campaign linked up with activists in the Stop Cop City movement.

Benji Hart: So I went with a contingent of No Cop Academy youth and some of the adult allies. I want to say around 10 of us went from Chicago, 10 to 15 of us, to support a week of action back in March in Atlanta. It was a huge honor, A, because we were invited by the contingent of Black organizers. There’s some kind of different configurations working together in Atlanta. And specifically the coalition, the contingent of Black organizers was who reached out to and invited No Cop Academy young people to participate.

That was in large part because, A, there were already personal relationships between Black young people in Atlanta, Black young people in D.C. and Black young people in Chicago who are already organizing together and making those connections. But also because the No Cop Academy campaign and specifically the No Cop Academy toolkit, which youth and adult allies put together at the end of the No Cop Academy campaign, was something that Atlanta organizers, specifically Black Atlanta organizers actually studied, went through and used to help inform some of their own analysis and some of their own tactics.

So it was a huge honor to be invited and to get to march and to speak and to show our documentary side by side with some incredible organizers, specifically Black organizers in Atlanta. And I think we learned a lot while being there. But a big thing that I saw that I think was important was this narrative pushed very heavily by the mainstream, by corporate media and by a lot of those supporting Cop City was this idea that there were outside agitators. We know there’s an old sort of refrain even dating back to the Civil Rights Movement, but that there were outside agitators, people from out of the city, out of state coming to Atlanta to cause trouble, and that really people in Atlanta want this and this is just people from outside of the city and outside of the region butting in where they’re not welcome and coming to the city to stir up trouble.

That was a very intentional erasure of, A, the fact that Atlanta organizers were putting out the call for solidarity and asking folks to raise this call around the country and to show up in solidarity with Black folks in the city of Atlanta. I think the other thing it also erased was that Stop Cop City organizers were intentionally reaching out and inviting organizers from other parts of the country, from other regions to show up and support, and, in fact, much of their analysis is Cop City is about attracting law enforcement from all over the country, if not all over the world, to hypermilitarize the city of Atlanta. We need support from all over the country and all over the world to say this is not what we want.

While Black folks, specifically Black folks living in the direct vicinity of the Weelaunee Forest, where the academy is slated to be built, might be in sort of most direct or immediate threat, we know Atlanta organizers know and all of us who are paying attention know that this is about increasing policing surveillance and militarization globally, not just in Atlanta and not just in the United States. So it’s very incumbent upon us that we be practicing solidarity across regions that we not just cross racial and class barriers, but state barriers and national barriers and show real solidarity across all these different borders that are meant to keep our communities and our struggles siloed.

And again, the really visionary way in which Atlanta organizers were doing that, are doing that, is intentionally muffled by this idea of, oh, this isn’t actually people from Atlanta who are opposing this. It’s people from the outside. That’s a very old and intentional refrain designed to undermine and delegitimize real community building and solidarity that is taking place across regions and across borders, which again, is something to be celebrated and uplifted.

KH: One of best ways we can counter those narratives about “outside agitators,” which, as Benji explained, are utilized by the state to delegitimize local struggles, as well as cross-border solidarity, is to uplift local voices. Jasmine is an organizer with the struggle to Stop Cop City who was kind enough to offer us a breakdown of what’s been happening in Atlanta.

Jasmine: The Stop Cop City movement was born out of the fact that corporate elites that fund the Atlanta Police Foundation in partnership with the City of Atlanta are planning to build a $90 million urban warfare training facility in Southeast Atlanta, or actually unincorporated DeKalb County, where police would have access to essentially, literally a mock City of Atlanta, where they would practice high-speed chases, raids, they’ll have a site for bomb detonations, a shooting range. And all of this is coming out of the wake of 2020, when folks were organizing for an opposite reality, a reality in which we’re not providing more funding to the Atlanta Police Department, where we’re actually investing in the things that communities say keep them safe, like affordable housing, public infrastructure, investments in youth programming, things like that. And so the Stop Cop City movement… it’s an abolitionist fight.

It’s a fight for community control over our resources. It’s a fight to protect the over 300 acres of public forest that would be destroyed if this facility was to be built. And it’s a fight to recognize the fact that corporate control over our city is growing exponentially and that their relationship with the police is really a way to be able to prevent folks from organizing for our liberation, from organizing against capitalism, and for organizing control over our own self-determination. And so, folks have been in this fight since 2021, when the ordinance was introduced to transfer the city-owned land, those over 300 acres, to the Atlanta Police Foundation for this project. And a lot has happened since then. I think the most remarkable thing is that, time and time again, when residents of Atlanta and residents of DeKalb County, who live near where the site would be built, are asked about their opinion on the project, the overwhelming majority are opposed to it.

Just this past Monday, which was May 15th, there was a city council meeting in which there was over seven hours of public comment, over 200 people signed up and a hundred percent of those people were speaking out against Cop City. And so, despite this overwhelming opposition since the beginning of public awareness about the project, it’s continued to move forward. And so we’re just continuing to try to find new ways to organize and bring more people in, because we’ve recognized at this stage that it’s really going to be people power that forces this project to a halt.

KH: The repression Stop Cop City organizers have faced, from bogus domestic terrorism charges and felony charges for leafleting to the murder Tortuguita — a forest defender who was a vocal advocate of nonviolent resistance — has been unlike anything I have seen or experienced in my years as an organizer. Here in Chicago, we are no stranger to raids, heavy-handed charges and violence against activists, but what’s been unfolding in Atlanta is nothing short of stunning, and I am deeply concerned that not enough people are paying attention to these escalations. If these tactics result in a victory for the police state, what we are witnessing in Atlanta could easily become the new normal.

Jasmine: From the beginning of this movement, the police presence, in an attempt to repress folks who were organizing against Cop City, has been extremely strong. Even when there were demonstrations last year where kids and families were peacefully protesting Cop City, having rallies and demonstrations, folks were violently and brutally arrested. This escalated to people simply being attacked and violently arrested for holding signs that said Cop City, and then charged with domestic terrorism for holding those signs that say Stop Cop City. We reached a pinnacle, earlier this year in January, when a forest defender, Tortuguita, was murdered by the Georgia State Patrol for sleeping in a public space in the park that would be destroyed to build Cop City. And the repression has continued since then. I think over 40 people have now been charged with domestic terrorism.

In April, three people were actually arrested for allegedly flyering and giving out information about the names of the officers who murdered Tortuguita. And so we’re seeing very extreme repression from the state, not only from the police officers who are making these arrests, but from the judicial system as well. We have judges that are finding probable cause for domestic terrorism because people were wearing all black at a music festival, because people were wearing all black and may have had mud on them at a music festival. And so the standards for innocence are extremely high.

They’re trying to frame this as some sort of RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] conspiracy, that this movement and anyone who says, “Defend the Atlanta Forest,” or anyone who says, “Stop Cop City,” is involved in this intricate web of domestic terrorism. When in reality the folks who are being terrorized the most are the recipients of police violence. And so that’s what we’re actually organizing against. And honestly, I think it’s been pretty clear to folks in the movement that this is just a really broad attempt to make an example out of folks so that people are scared to participate not only in this fight, but in all the fights for justice that are bubbling up here in Georgia, across the south and across this country. We’re seeing abortion bans. We’re seeing attacks against trans rights, against LGBTQ rights, against critical race theory being taught in schools. And so anyone who is willing to go out into the street and demonstrate against fascism is at risk of being labeled a terrorist.

KH: Jasmine also has strong feelings about the rhetoric of politicians who have characterized the Stop Cop City movement as being fueled by outside agitators.

Jasmine: One of the big talking points from the state, from these corporations who are funding Cop City, from city council, from the mayor, is that this is a movement of outside agitators, that it is just white people from out of town coming in to cause problems and that folks here in Atlanta actually want Cop City. Again, we know this isn’t true. We know that the majority of people here in Atlanta do not want Cop City. But what is so concerning about this attempt to create disunity between folks here in Atlanta and outside of Atlanta is that Cop City is an issue that is affecting people, not only here in Atlanta or the United States, but across the world. One thing that we talk about a lot in this movement is that the Atlanta Police Department currently trains with the Israeli police, who are practicing genocide against the Palestinian people.

And polling came out from the Atlanta Police Foundation itself that said that over 40% of the officers that would be trained at Cop City would not be in from Georgia. So it is quite possible that folks were organizing against Cop City in their own respective places are doing so because there’s a likely possibility that their own local officers will be gaining these urban warfare tactics by coming to Atlanta and training at the Cop City facility. So that’s one connection, but then we also know that there are Cop Cities that are attempting to pop up everywhere. Chicago, Hawaii, I believe Texas, have all been sites where similar projects have been proposed and where people are struggling and organizing against those projects. And so really this is a global struggle against fascism, it’s a global struggle against the militarization of the police and state violence against folks who dissent to being oppressed.

And the what’s happening here in Atlanta is just one example of that global interconnected struggle. And I think it’s important to make those connections because the state is trying to isolate people. The state is trying to isolate us here in Atlanta to act like this is an anomaly, to use their vehicles of propaganda to paint this movement as a small group of people who are just trying to cause trouble for the police that are really focused on keeping our community safe. And we know that that’s not the truth. We know this, especially because as I mentioned, a lot of these plans for Cop City, both here in Atlanta and across the country, came out of 2020, when masses of people in the United States, across the world were protesting against police violence and were actually organizing for abolition for alternatives to these institutions that are really all tied up in our oppression.

And the state, both in the micro sense on a local level, and in the macro sense on a federal and global level, decided that they needed to ramp up their effort to be able to repress us. And so this is not just something that’s going to affect us here in Atlanta. This is not just something that’s going to affect us even just here in the United States. Atlanta’s being used as a blueprint for what’s possible across the globe.

KH: If you’re hearing all of this and wondering what you can do to support this movement, you will be glad to know that there are ways to plug in.

JB: I think it would be great if folks could find ways to get involved in the fight to stop Cop City from wherever they are, because this is something that affects all of us. There are multiple ways that you can plug in, even if you’re not in Atlanta, you can go to stopcopcitysolidarity.org and it’ll show you where the folks are in your city that are supporting this project. So again, because this is funded primarily by corporations, there are likely corporate headquarters where you’re located. And so like I said, there are a lot of different ways to get involved. Even if you can’t participate in organizing, there are some great groups that could really use resources, thinking of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which is doing a lot of legal defense work for folks who have been caught up in these domestic terrorism charges, working to get them free.

There’s also the Atlanta Community Press Collective that is doing a lot of on-the-ground local journalism, that’s movement journalism, really rooted in what’s happening to folks on the ground and not caught up in the pro-police propaganda that is being pushed by major corporations here in Atlanta, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is owned by one of the funders of Cop City. So it’s important that we have our own media that’s able to tell these true stories. And so any resources that people could have that could go to those organizations would be great. And like I said, there are so many ways to get involved from where you are, and I definitely encourage people to go to that website, stopcopcitysolidarity.org for more information on how they can plug in.

There’s a week of action, that will be June 24th to July 1st. That’s also an opportunity for people who want to come to Atlanta to participate in a wide variety of different actions that will be happening here. The movement is very decentralized and autonomous, so I can’t name or rattle off all the things that will be happening that week, but it’s definitely a way to come and get plugged into what’s happening here on the ground.

KH: We were almost ready to upload this episode on Wednesday, May 31, when I received some alarming news from Atlanta. Wednesday morning, the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations raided The Teardown House – an organizing hub in East Atlanta that contributes to projects like Food Not Bombs Atlanta, Copwatch of East Atlanta, Atlanta Anarchist Black Cross, and the Atlanta Solidarity Fund – which provides provides bail and legal support to protesters. Three organizers with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund were arrested in the raid. According to the Atlanta Community Press Collective, Marlon Kautz, Adele Maclean and Savannah Patterson were charged with one count each of money laundering and charity fraud. As the Atlanta Community Press Collective wrote in a report on Wednesday:

These arrests come just a week after news that the Cop City project will cost residents $67 million, instead of the $30 million consistently told to the public since 2021. Atlanta City Council will vote whether to fund Cop City on Monday, June 5.

If found guilty of the charges, the money laundering charge comes with a fine of $500,000, up to 20 years imprisonment, or both.

In a statement released after the arrests, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp stated:

For months, law enforcement on the state and local level have worked diligently to secure the site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in the face of violence from mostly out-of-state activists. They came to harass police officers and civilians, choosing destruction over legitimate protest. Thanks to our brave law enforcement, many of them have already been arrested. And today, we’re proud to share that those who backed their illegal actions are also under arrest and will face justice.

Kemp said these arrests should serve as a “reminder that we will track down every member of a criminal organization, from violent foot soldiers to their uncaring leaders.”

According to Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, “This is the first bail fund to be attacked in this way.” To call these developments chilling would be an understatement. This is fascist repression and it must be opposed. Bail funds provide crucial assistance to social justice movements, as well as highly criminalized communities. This kind of support work must be defended.

I highly recommend following the Atlanta Community Press Collective for further updates. You can find their work linked in the show notes of this episode on our website at truthout.org. Given that the Atlanta Solidarity Fund’s efforts to provide monetary assistance to protesters have been compromised by this legal onslaught, The National Bail Fund Network is currently collecting donations to support Atlanta organizers who “face targeted political repression.”

[musical interlude]

I am so grateful to Alex, Stuart, Benji and Jasmine for joining me to discuss escalations in policing in this era of crisis and catastrophe. I highly recommend checking out The End of Policing and Badges without Borders, and I also think our new book Let This Radicalize You offers an important intervention on this subject. Mariame Kaba and I examine the state’s counterinsurgency practices, and the war-making our communities are faced with, to argue that it is crucial to understand how violence is framed and how state violence is legitimized. As we wrote in Let This Radicalize You:

If your tactics disrupt the order of things under capitalism, you may well be accused of violence, because “violence” is an elastic term often deployed to vilify people who threaten the status quo. Conditions that the state characterizes as “peaceful” are, in reality, quite violent. Even as people experience the violence of poverty, the torture of im- prisonment, the brutality of policing, the denial of health care, and many other violent functions of this system, we are told we are experiencing peace, so long as everyone is cooperating. When state actors refer to “peace,” they are really talking about order. And when they refer to “peaceful protest,” they are talking about cooperative protest that obediently stays within the lines drawn by the state. The more uncooperative you are, the more you will be accused of aggression and violence. It is therefore imperative that the state not be the arbiter of what violence means among people seeking justice.

When people who are leafleting are being charged with felonies and people attending a music festival in the woods are charged with domestic terrorism, I think the truth of those words could not be more evident. To do the work of justice, and to create the world we deserve, we are going to have to make our own choices about what constitutes violence, and what actions are legitimate, rather than relying on state designations or narratives.

As we close today, I want to thank our listeners and readers for joining us this season. Movement Memos would not exist without you and we are so grateful for your support. I also want to thank everyone who has supported Let This Radicalize You. We believe there’s a lot of knowledge and power in this book, and Mariame and I hope that it helps provide some fuel and accompaniment for organizers who are working to navigate these times. If you have read the book, you may have noticed that this podcast is quoted repeatedly. That’s because this show and the book have similar missions. With every episode of Movement Memos, we are striving to create a resource that will help people doing justice work in their journeys. I am so grateful for that opportunity, and for the team that makes that work possible. We are committed to this work because we believe it matters and we are grateful to everyone who makes it possible. So please do spread the word about Let This Radicalize You, and about Movement Memos, to anyone you think might benefit. Word of mouth recommendations from people like you are what make projects like these succeed, and we appreciate your support.

Given that we are going to be on a break during the month of June, I hope some of you may catch up on episodes you may have missed, or revisit episodes that you may have found helpful. And if you find an episode useful, please be sure to share it with others. If you’re looking for another show to help fill the void while we’re away, I highly recommend Belabored, at Dissent Magazine, hosted by Michelle Chen and Sarah Jaffe. The show offers in-depth analysis of the labor movement as our struggles adapt to a new era of capitalism. Sarah and Michelle interview labor leaders, labor scholars and historians, and rank-and-file workers from around the world. They also provide context, history, and strategic insights for people navigating the workplace and organizing for power. You can find out more about Belabored at dissent magazine dot org slash belabored. If you want to check out more of my recommendations, in terms of podcasts that I think have the potential to help activists and organizers along in their work, be sure to check out the show notes for this episode on our website at truthout.org. You can find them at the bottom of the transcript. I do hope that, whatever else you’re up to this summer, you will commit to exploring subjects that could help propel your work as an activist or an organizer. This really is a time to learn together, and I am grateful to be on that journey with so many of you.

Finally, I want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and this season. And remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good, and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.

Show Notes

  • You can learn more about the National Bail Fund Network’s efforts to support Atlanta organizers here.
  • You can find Stop Cop City updates from the Atlanta Community Press Collective here.

Books:

Referenced:

Podcast Recommendations:

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