In the afternoon of Jan. 26, Governor Brian Kemp declared a “state of emergency” in Georgia, to run through Feb. 9.
People might ask, what is this dire emergency affecting the people of Georgia? Could it be the dismal news that last year 1,333,100 people were lacking health insurance in the state? Or maybe that Georgia has one of the highest rates of maternal deaths in the country, which is three times higher for Black women than for white women?
Or did the governor finally realize that, despite his repeated claims that Georgia is the “best state to live in,” Atlanta has the greatest income inequality of cities over 100,000 in population?
All the statistics verify the real emergencies facing the residents of Georgia are the lack of livable wages and affordable, decent housing; the unclean air and water; militarized over-policing in their neighborhoods; and so much more.
But since the “emergency” decree allows Kemp to call up 1,000 National Guard to help “subdue riot and unlawful assembly,” it is clear that the dangerous emergency for the governor and his corporate bosses is the determined resistance to the building of Cop City, a $90 billion urban-warfare training center in the middle of an ecologically vital forest.
The South River Forest, or Weelaunee Forest as the area’s Muscogee Creek peoples named it, before they were forcibly removed by settler militias in the 1830s, is located on the southeast side of Atlanta. It is owned by Atlanta, which is in Fulton County, but the land is in DeKalb County.
After the Southeast Native nations were expelled to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, the land was put into the hands of elite plantation owners, who used enslaved Africans to create their wealth. During the Jim Crow era of brutal racism, the city of Atlanta bought a part of it for a Prison Farm, where once again a Black workforce labored for free after being sentenced for so-called crimes of loitering, being unemployed or “public drunkenness.” An untold number of prisoners died from lack of medical care, poor diet, work-related injuries and physical punishment.
Long struggle to protect the woods
Finally in 1995, the Atlanta Prison Farm was closed. Meanwhile a neighborhood of working-class and poor people, mostly Black, developed near this heavily forested stretch of land, that is also the headwaters of the South River and numerous creeks. There has been a struggle for years to preserve these woods, restore the water quality of the river and allow nature to provide its recreational benefits to the public. In fact in 2017, the Atlanta City Council included a plan in the City Charter that the forest be preserved in perpetuity.
But in 2021, following the national outrage over George Floyd’s murder and calls for defunding or abolishing police departments, the Atlanta Police Foundation — a private club of corporate and financial leaders — decided to use the screen of “better training for police” to push for a huge facility on the land. Deemed “Cop City” by activists, it would have a helicopter port, gun ranges, explosives and chemical devices training areas; a track to practice pit maneuvers and other driving tactics; a “mock” city with a school, gas station and apartments to simulate urban crowd control tactics; plus multiple buildings and parking lots and roads.
The movement against Cop City includes the neighbors and environmentalists, who have organized for years to preserve this wooded acreage, plus Black Lives Matter activists, social justice organizations and the Forest Defenders. The Forest Defenders are living in tree houses and encampments to prevent the illegal cutting of trees before all permits and legal suits have been settled.
The killing of 26-year-old Manuel Teran took place Jan. 18 during a so-called “clearing operation” by multiple police agencies, including Georgia State Troopers who fired the fatal shots. There is apparently no video because, unlike all the other police forces involved, the state troopers do not wear body cameras.
Days before in another sweep, six people in tree houses had been forced down with rubber bullets, pepper spray and verbal threats and were charged with being “domestic terrorists,” denied bond and threatened with decades in prison if convicted.
Activists honor the life of Tortuguita
Teran, who was known at Tortuguita or Little Turtle, had established a reputation as a gentle, thoughtful and compassionate person, among the many different people who comprise the opponents of Cop City. Activists challenge the police version of what happened when the shooting took place.
On the night of the killing, hundreds gathered in the Little 5 Points area of Atlanta for a candlelight vigil and march. The next night, a memorial service was held in a park adjacent to the Cop City site. On Jan. 20, the location of the protest moved to a downtown park with a march on Peachtree St. that went past the Atlanta Police Foundation’s offices and two of the banks funding Cop City.
A small group broke off from the march of hundreds and smashed glass windows, lit fireworks, sprayed anti-Cop City slogans on the buildings’ walls and set an empty police cruiser on fire. They were immediately arrested, charged with multiple offenses and accused of being domestic terrorists.
A number of National Guard had arrived by Jan. 20 — before the declaration of the state of emergency — with their military vehicles and equipment. They have been stationed near the Capitol grounds and not deployed anywhere else, so far.
Since Governor Kemp’s declaration of the state of emergency, an obvious attempt to frighten people from publicly protesting, two other demonstrations in downtown Atlanta have been held in response to the vicious police murder of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, as seen on video footage.
My conclusion, as a longtime Atlanta resident: Governor Kemp, forget your bogus “state of emergency!” The “Stop Cop City” movement is drawing strength from recognizing the inherent inhumanity of capitalism and its enforcers, the police.
There’s truth to the saying, “Repression Breeds Resistance!”