In Atlanta, eight forest defenders remain in jail for the crime of “domestic terrorism.” They have been detained since March 5 and denied bond, for reasons as ridiculous as having mud on their shoes or a jail support number written on their arms. Meanwhile in Virginia, the ten cops and hospital workers who were charged with the second-degree murder of Irvo Otieno were all released on bond. Something is seriously wrong when people accused of damaging property are detained more harshly than those accused of taking a human life.
The forest defenders are part of a social movement that emerged to stop the development of Cop City in Atlanta: A police training facility that is projected to span 85 acres, raze as much of the precious Atlanta forest—on stolen Muscogee Creek and Cherokee land— and cost $90 million. The opposition movement includes environmentalists, faith communities, Indigenous people, abolitionists, and other community members.
The protest around the planned construction of Cop City lands at the very heart of the current movement to defund the police, and hold individual officers accountable for their criminal actions. In the last few years, we have seen strong pushback against this growing movement from police departments across the country. The Berkeley Police Department complains of understaffing, while their slice of the general fund has essentially stayed the same. Yes, the country started to move the needle during the George Floyd uprisings, but this is where we are: Plans for a police academy larger than any other ever built in the US.
Cop City is reminiscent of the Bay Area’s Urban Shield program on a national level. Urban Shield was a program created in 2007 by former Alameda Sheriff Ahern after he attended “counter-terrorism” training in Israel. Urban Shield took place in the Bay Area on the weekend of 9/11 each year, and was the largest war games training and weapons expo in the world funded by the Department of Homeland Security. Urban Shield brought together local, regional and international police-military units to collaborate and train “tactical teams as well as all first responders, to prepare for and provide a unified response to disasters and major emergencies.” Three dozen events – including active shooter, domestic threat and terrorist attack simulations – took place over four days throughout the Bay Area on land and water. Ahern claimed that Urban Shield was necessary to fight terrorism, critics claimed Urban Shield promoted and trained police-military units in new forms of surveillance, repression and state violence. Due to the efforts of a protest movement called Stop Urban Shield, the Alameda Board of Supervisors voted to put an end to the event in 2018.
Cop City will be a new Urban Shield, but worse. The plans include military-grade training facilities, a mock city to practice urban warfare, explosives testing areas, dozens of shooting ranges, and a Black Hawk helicopter landing pad. This represents a giant increase in police power and a nationalization of policing. Cops everywhere have been invited to travel from around the country to use its facilities and train there. Public safety will be taken further out of the hands of communities and into a secretive cop culture defined by people who live thousands of miles away. Cop City will weaken any community control and oversight of the police.
The imbalance of power could not be more blatant. Indigenous voices, Black and brown communities, and forest defenders, acting to defend their communities have been met with militarized police infrastructure. The Atlanta police claim that shots were fired and this is why they murdered Tortuguita on January 18, 2023. Just as police have done time and time again, they defend their murderous violence in the name of self defense. The autopsy for Tortuguita has been released, showing they died sitting down with their legs crossed and their hands in the air. Sound familiar?
In Berkeley, police are targeting populations. Yes, it’s the Bike Force in Downtown. Who else? The unhoused community targeted by the Homeless Response Team, and the vehicle dwelling community targeted by parking enforcement.
Our struggles are intertwined. Those who are defending the land from privatization, from exploitation, are deeply linked to struggles against police militarization and police terror. These are threads of the same struggle. The fight to Stop Cop City is the perfect example. Here in the East Bay, we are in constant struggle with city governments and their police over public access to land and parks. Whether it is the fight to Save People’s Park or the daily struggle of people being swept from their tent home in cyclical evictions.
Go to stopcopcitysolidarity.org to find local corporations and institutions that are funding and supporting the Cop City project. Together we will stop Cop City!
Berkeley Copwatch is an all-volunteer organization with the goal to reduce police violence through direct observation and holding police accountable for their actions. Formed in 1990, they seek to educate the public about their rights, police conduct in the Berkeley community and issues related to the role of police in our society at large. For more information visit www.berkeleycopwatch.org.