LIVE COVERAGE: Atlanta City Council approves 'Cop City' funding after hundreds speak for 15 hours
This is ongoing coverage of the Atlanta City Council’s vote on legislation to fund the public safety training center, also known as 'Cop City.' The training center, approved by the council in 2021, is being built on 85 acres of city-owned land in DeKalb County. The site is in the South River Forest near the Old Atlanta Prison Farm. The project includes preserving 265 acres of forest as public greenspace. The city is the owner of the training center and the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation is a funding mechanism for the project.
The motion to adopt the original ordinance including amendments is now up for consideration. Councilmember Bakhtiari also asks for the council to vote no. Councilmember Lewis said the funding makes it an easy “no” vote for him because the money could be used to help young people. “The whole world is watching!” people chant .The council votes 11-4 in favor of the legislation to fund the public safety training center. The crowd boos.
The legislation on funding the public safety training center is up for a vote. Councilmember Amir Farokhi said the roughly 15-hour meeting has been “extraordinary” and he wanted to “acknowledge the passion and vulnerability and pain and courage and creativity of everyone in the room and people who have been here.”
Councilmember Farokhi also attempts to introduce several amendments as people begin chanting, “Vote no!”
Councilmember Wan makes a motion to refer back to finance committee and applause breaks out from the crowd.
Councilmember Jason Dozier said he appreciates the passion in the room and that he plans to vote no. More applause.
Dozier then said he wants to vote today. “I recognize that many of my colleagues are still searching for information, searching for answers, wanting to learn more from the administration,” Dozier said. ” I feel like we’ve had a significant amount of debate these last two to three years to get to this point. And I implore my colleagues to join me in voting no, because you’ve heard from the people.”
The motion to refer to committee fails.
The motion is to adopt the original ordinance including amendments.
Councilmember Bakhtiari also asks for the council to vote no.
Legislation from the Finance/Executive Committee is now being considered.
Personal papers are being introduced. Councilmember Alex Wan introduced legislation requesting the Atlanta Police Foundation create two positions on its board of trustees to be to be filled by members of the Atlanta City Council. APF is governed by a 50-member board of trustees, which includes the leaders from many of Metro Atlanta’s largest companies, the legislation says. Elected officials on the APF board would provide additional transparency and accountability, Wan said. He asked it be voted on immediately. The council voted to approve 14-1. Councilmember Lewis voted no.
Public comment is finished after roughly nearly 15 hours. The council considers other legislation. The Finance/Executive Committee legislation on funding the training center is moved to the final voting item after approval of consent agenda items, other ordinances, committee reports as well as general remarks.
Rohit Malhotra, founder and executive director of nonprofit The Center for Civic Innovation, said his group commissioned in 2002 a task force that told a Black community that it would “turn the dumping ground next to their homes into a public park, then we enshrined that in 2017.” Cop City is a break in that promise, Malhotra said.
Recess is expired and the council is in the chamber where people are refusing to leave and are singing “Can’t Turn Me Around.” Councilmember Matt Westmoreland proposed to let people speak who have not done so as long as stop interruptions and outbursts. The motion was approved. Councilmember Mary Norwood asked how many people are left to speak. There are 22 people signed up who will be allowed to speak for two minutes each.
The council has voted to go into recess for an undetermined amount of time after the one hour approved for public comment wrapped up but many people continued to shout to let them speak. One woman began screaming into the microphone. President Shipman tried for several minutes to calm the crowd so the council could move on to the rest of the agenda, a plea he made numerous times over the 13 hours of public comment. “If we cannot proceed because of outbursts from the audience, we’ll have to recess and move to committee rooms so you can watch on TV,” Shipman said. “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that.”
Marissa Pyle, a resident of unincorporated DeKalb County, told Atlanta council members she had no real recourse to tell her elected officials to stop Cop City. The project is being built in DeKalb, but it is on city-owned land. People in her community will have to put up with gunshots from firing ranges, deforestation and “urban warfare training grounds,” she said. “Cop City doesn’t make my community safer,” Pyle said. Instead, the facility will make the community more policed, more surveilled, subject to more state and police violence. “All while you choose what’s best for us and we have no say,” Pyle said.
Public comment is finally complete. The council is now moving into Committee as a Whole. A line of people is forming chanting “Let us speak!” but the council has voted tot limit comments to one hour. People are also complaining about the heat and demanding that the air conditioning be turned back on in council chambers.
Now in the 12th hour of public comment, Council President Shipman said four people are left. How many will speak once the council moves into Committee of the Whole is still unknown.
It’s worth noting that many students – from elementary to college – have spoken out against “Cop City” over the last 11 hours. Students from Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Emory, Morehouse have all spoken in opposition. Georgia Tech student Nia Batka said “Cop City” would do nothing to stop mass shootings at schools, which is a major issue for youth.
President Shipman says 25 people left to comment. The council will then go into Committee of the Whole to allow those who were unable to sign up during the initial public comment period to speak.
A speaker challenged how District 12 Councilmember Lewis was serving his constituents in South Atlanta and an angry argument ensued. The folks at the Atlanta Solidarity Fund arrested last week had been feeding Black people in Lewis’ district, the speaker said. Lewis said nobody feeds more people on Cleveland Avenue than he does. “You can’t hold my jock strap in my community,” Lewis said.
Tuesday, June 6, midnight
The Atlanta City Council is now in its 11th hour and crossed into another day as public comment continues against the “Cop City” training facility. Activists and protesters have spoken passionately – and sometimes profanely – in their opposition. Public comment could continue for several more hours.
Margaret Spaulding, a member of the South River Watershed Alliance, said the lobbyist for the Atlanta Police Foundation was spotted running around City Hall all day, likely meeting with council members to ensure their “yes” vote on the legislation. She noted Bernice King asked on social media earlier today, “How can any Atlanta City Council member vote “YES” on #CopCity funding and live with their conscience after hearing today’s public comments, many of which were passionate, love-centered, powerful, and inspiring?” Spaulding said the mayor’s consistent promise of park land is also “conspicuously absent from this proposal.” Investing in green spaces in Black communities mitigates environmental racism and be the first step in protecting people, she said. “Protect our green space and invest in southeast Atlanta. Thank you,” she said.
The Atlanta City Council has entered its 10th hour of public comment. More than 100 are still signed up for public comment on “Cop City,” then the council is expected to go into committee as a whole to hear even more comments. It is unclear what time the council might vote.
The council is back in session. There are still more than 100 signed up to speak during public comment.
Councilmember Bakhtiari addresses the audience during a recess.
Councilmember Bakhtiari called for a 15 minute recess. The motion passed. Bakhtiari told the people she was going to oppose the funding legislation. She asked the crowd for a way to move forward with public comment in a more peaceful and quicker manner, stating that council members have received death threats. If the crowd cannot stop shouting, then Shipman would follow through with his warning and everyone would be cleared from the chamber and public comment would be completed in a committee room. She asked the people to stop naming council members so they do not have the option to respond, taking up more time. “I do not know how to move forward,” Bakhtiari said. “I just know this is about to happen. I wanted to come down here and be honest with you.” Councilmember Mary Norwood tries to intervene, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen.” People shout her down. Shipman calls session back to order. Everyone remains in chamber.
A man named Jordan challenges Councilmember Bond about his previous comments that the city has a fiduciary duty to provide facilities and equipment such as the public safety training center. “Is it fiduciary duty to build the largest police training facility in the nation?” Jordan said. “To cut down the city’s lungs?” Jordan also expressed anger with Bond’s “disdain” for the activists. Bond said he comes from a family of activists, protesters and organizers and said he apologized for offending anyone. He was met with a chorus of “Boos!” Bond also said he would be a “yes” vote on the funding legislation. The crowd broke out into chants of, “Shame! Shame!”
Heavily armed APD are visibly present in the council chamber, which erupted in cheers after a speaker described their experience of solitary confinement and sexual assault in the DeKalb County jail following a traffic stop and arrest for a mistake in insurance coverage. Dyana Bagby took the photos above moments ago in the city hall atrium and in the chamber.
People in the council chamber shout, “Viva, viva, Tortuguita!” after a speaker finishes.
The council chamber erupted in chants and anger as Councilmember Michael Julian Bond tried to respond to a speaker. Bond said the council had a fiduciary responsibility to the city and its employees. “If we, the councilmembers, don’t provide the employees with the equipment, the facilities, salaries and benefits that we deserve, we run afoul of federal labor law,” Bond said. “The city will eventually have to build or acquire facilities for our department. And that is a fact.”
Joe Beery held up a map using a drone photograph of the training center site. The city council granted the Atlanta Police Foundation 85 acres in 2021, but the organization has taken 171 acres. The agreement in 2021 also promised nearly 300 acres for parkland. But APF’s taking of 171 acres, according to Beery, leaves only about 125 acres for public greenspace. “So, I don’t want to hear any more about they’re taking 85 acres and we’re getting the rest of it for a park,” Beery said. “It’s a lie.”
Jack Joiner of the mutual aid organization Atlanta Justice Alliance read a statement from Savannah Peterson, Adele McLean and Marlon Kautz, organizers for the Atlanta Solitary Fund, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance and bail money for people arrested at protests. The three were arrested May 31 at their home during an Atlanta Police and GBI raid and are charged with financial crimes related to the public safety training center site. “We woke up to the sound of our front door being broken down. Dozens of police with assault weapons and SWAT equipment surrounded our home in DeKalb County and threatened to throw a flash bang grenade into our living room,” Joiner read from the statement. The experience was “terrifying” and became surreal when Peterson, McLean and Kautz learned of the “blatantly false” charges of money laundering and charity fraud, Joiner said. Peterson, McLean and Kautz spent days in jail before a judge finally reviewed the allegations against us and “acknowledged that the charges were questionable at best,” the statement said. “Our charitable organization is far from fraudulent,” they said.
The city had to restart the Facebook live stream at a new link of the meeting. You can watch it here.
Attorney Matt Bass urged the Atlanta City Council to send “Cop City” back to committee until it can get more transparency from the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Clifton Kelly, who said he worked as an advanced EMT for the DeKalb County Fire Rescue Department but was speaking as an individual, said he was at the council meeting to “protest against a gross misuse of public funds.” He added that “those of us first responders who are not police stand to gain absolutely nothing from the proposed Cops City site.”
A giant “simulated city in the woods” where police will train on riot techniques “because they’re scared of what will happen the next time they kill someone like George Floyd or Rayshard Brooks does nothing for us,” Kelly said. “Our job is to rescue and render aid, not to suppress free speech,” he said. He said he and his colleagues follow a strict training regimen.
“We do our jobs very well. We’re also, however, severely short-staffed due to inadequate compensation,” Kelly said. He said patients regularly wait up to an hour for ambulance response times for their medical emergencies, and crews “are working nonstop with no breaks.” “Firefighters and EMS personnel are being burnt out at an unprecedented rate,” he said. “Turnover has a significant impact on morale. We need downtime to recuperate from the calls that we run and the things that we see. That require staffing, which requires that you pay us what we’ve already earned with our literal blood sweat and tears,” he said. “If you took the additional $67 million being proposed for this Cop City site and put it toward our compensation, you would see a massive increase in patient outcomes and patient care,” Kelly said. His remarks were greeted with loud applause from the crowd.
Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman said 80 people have spoken so far during public comment. Nearly 300 more people are signed up to speak.
Most speakers during public comment have evoked the name of Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, the 26-year-old activist who was shot and killed at the “Cop City” site on Jan. 18. Terán, who used they/them pronouns, was camping on the site when law enforcement conducted a clearing operation. According to the GBI, Terán fired on Georgia State Patrol officers, who returned fire and killed them. When the autopsy was finally released in April, it showed that Terán had been shot 57 times while in a seated position. Their family has called for an independent investigation.
Amy Taylor, a member of the community stakeholders committee who lives next door to the training facility site on Key Road and has filed suit to stop the project, said she has been “harassed, intimidated, interrogated, and followed, and had to tell an officer to turn off his flashing blue lights because I had to sleep. Of course, he was in his car, sleeping just fine.” Taylor said she has photographic proof that erosion continues on the property despite claims that steps have been taking to stop sediment from getting into the water.
Just before 4:30 p.m., Council President Doug Shipman said more than 200 people were still on the original public comments list to speak. Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari said water had been brought into the atrium and council chamber after a commenter said he was dehydrated
Many of those speaking out against the training facility have mentioned that the $31 million is an incorrect figure. A recent report by the Atlanta Community Press Collective said the cost to taxpayers may be much more than the $31 million. The ordinance to fund the training center authorizes the $31 million, and it also authorizes the mayor to enter into a lease-back program with the powerful nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation, the report said.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the the city’s contribution to the facility is actually $67 million, not $31 million, because the “lease back” provision in the city’s lease with the Atlanta Police Foundation that will cost taxpayers $1.2 million annually over the course of the next 30 years. The $1.2 million in annual payments to the Atlanta Police Foundation will repay the nonprofit organization for the bulk of its contribution toward building the public safety training center.
In response to the reports, the city issued a statement on Friday, June 2, denying the cost for the public safety training center “has doubled or ballooned.”
“The projected budget for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center’s construction stands at roughly $90 million. The Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) has pledged to generate approximately one-third of this total through philanthropic initiatives and another one-third via a private loan and new market tax credits. Neither the price tag for the center nor the City of Atlanta’s portion of the cost has doubled or ballooned,” the statement said.
The city has and continues to pay more than $1.4 million each year for leases to use other facilities for public safety training, according to the statement. The locations are scattered around the city and metro area and “are not optimal for public safety training.”
The ordinance being considered Monday would eliminate paying leases for the other locations and instead pay $1.2 million to the APF for the police and fire departments to use the new public safety training center.
Activist Matthew Herskind said Mayor Dickens is setting up the counci to be the “fall guys” in approving the center. He also criticized the mayor for working with the Atlanta Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Attorney General to coordinate the raid on the Atlanta Solidarity Fund office.
Minister Kenyanna Jones said she’d never seen a SWAT team show up to arrest someone charged with “charity fraud” like the leaders of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. “No matter which ways this go, this is not the end,” Jones said. “We have a duty to stand up against injustice.”
Chebon Kernell spoke in his native Muscogee language to speak against “Cop City.” He reminded the council that they were standing on the land of the first people. He said the militarization of police would not make the community safer.
Attorney Devin Franklin called out the city and local and state law enforcement for the “shameful and performative raid” on the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, whose three leaders were arrested last week on charges of money laundering and charities fraud. The organization has provided bail and helped find lawyers for those activists charged with domestic terrorism in protesting “Cop City.”
Franklin also charged that the Atlanta Police Foundation “advertises the city is contributing $31 million when we all know it’s $60 million” for the training facility. “They should be the ones investigated for charity.”
Shannon Cofrin Gaggero – a friend of Amy St. Pierre, who was killed in last month’s mass shooting in Midtown – launched a blistering attack against Mayor Andre Dickens for using St. Pierre as a prop in his support of “Cop City.” Gaggero said St. Pierre was against the facility and had protested against it, and would rather see the money used to fund the Center for Diversion & Services.
Councilman Michael Julian Bond made a motion to go into committtee of the whole, which would allow for additional public comment. The council will now hear the 350 people signed up then go into the committee of the whole at the conclusion of the original list and hear additional comment. The motion carried. It is unknown how many people will wind up on the new list, but it looks like a long day – and night – ahead.
Unlike the May 15 council meeting where all comments were in opposition of Cop City, several people have already spoken in favor of the training facility.
Monday, June 5
Hundreds of protesters and activists have gathered inside and outside Atlanta City Hall to protest spending $31 million in tax dollars for the estimated $90 million public safety training facility, known as “Cop City” by its opponents.
Just after the start of the Atlanta City Council meeting at 1 p.m., 350 people had signed up to speak during public comment. The fire department announced City Hall had reached capacity about 1 p.m. with about 500 in the atrium and 200 in the council chambers. Hundreds people lined up outside for more than a block, some waiting more than an hour, waiting to get inside City Hall. Security was allowing people in as others left the building.
At 1:30 p.m., more than 100 people opposed to Atlanta public safety training center were lined up outside City Hall waiting to get into the building. The fire department said City Hall was at capacity about 1 p.m. Security was allowing people inside as people left. (Dyana Bagby)
Activists complained that more people wanted to sign up by the 1 p.m. deadline, but could not get into City Hall or get to the sign-up sheet. Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari, who is outspoken in her opposition to the public training center, addressed the “Stop Cop City” crowd in the atrium at about 1:20 p.m. to let them know the council was trying to figure out a way to extend sign-ups for public comment. The crowd responded with loud chants of “Let us speak! Let us speak!”
Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari addresses the crowd packed into Atlanta City Hall atrium during Monday’s council meeting explaining sign-up time for public comment was being extended.
Councilmember Antonio Lewis made a motion to extend the sign-up for public comment, but city attorneys said that would require changing the city ordinance, which could not be accomplished today due to two required hearings.
This story comes to GPB through a partnership with Rough Draft Atlanta.