They Want to Build a Cop City. We Don’t Need It.

All opinions are the author’s own and are not representative of any models pictured.

If a budget can reveal character, then so too can an investment. 

It’s been a  year and a half out from the public onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. How far have we come?

Workers, once labeled “heroes,” are now being forgotten and exploited more than ever before. Let’s remember that the sentiment was never genuine for those forced back to their jobs on the frontlines amid a global public safety crisis – with no real material benefits to show for it, all while the corporations they work for are clocking record profits. 

The housing market has been lurching toward inevitable disaster, barely staved off by a now-ended eviction moratorium – that may or may not have been adhered to depending on how “enterprising” your landlord is. At the same time, late fees piled up, and bills remain due for 6.5 million renters.

Millions still have not received unemployment benefits for being laid off for circumstances far outside their control. Often the direct result of actions taken by the same corporations and moneyed interests currently raking in record profits.

Millions more are due to be kicked off unemployment altogether.

All while we ignore the extraordinary mental health crisis that is our world as it stands: faced with the next bill, with the profundity of the challenges before us, with the reckoning that with whatever paltry safety nets do exist, we could live through all this and somehow find ourselves going right back to normal. Back to business as usual. Having learned nothing.

The west coast is on fire. The east coast is flooding. Heat indexes are becoming inhospitable. Nature ever more precarious.

We’ve been through more than the weight of these words could convey: And they want to build a cop city?

The proposal for Cop City, spearheaded by Atlanta councilperson Joyce Sheperd, is premised on supposed mandates from her district’s constituents to address the rise in crime. What’s odd is, while photographing the #StopCopCity canvassing efforts, it was clear that her constituents had not heard a word about this plan – this essential giveaway of land and tax revenue that significantly impacts their neighborhood’s surrounding natural resources. 

Instead, this is a big wet kiss to “Law and Order” funded by various local monied interests like the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) and the so-called Atlanta Committee for Progress (APC). APF and APC board members represent the mayor’s office, Delta, Georgia Power, Cox Enterprises, Coca-Cola, and more. The proposal carries a price tag of nearly $90 million. An ordinance waiver sealed this big wet kiss on the bidding process for the use of this land: 381 acres of one of Atlanta’s largest remaining green spaces, given away for $10 a year in a backroom deal.

Photo: Brandon M.

How could this mandate come from constituents if entire neighborhoods in Sheperd’s district are just hearing about this plan now? The truth is that this “mandate” and these “constituents” are the corporate interests of the APF and APC. Those are the voices being listened to. Not the people’s, not the citizens. Not yours.

They want to spend almost $90 million on a cop city. If the “mandate” argument doesn’t work, they will naturally pivot to crime. They will scare you. They will reach deep into your brain for that seed that was planted when you were young and nurtured all your life. The cancer that tells you to be afraid of others. To fear even yourself – especially if you happen to be a person of color. They’ll preach of training and community outreach and gangs and thievery and this and that and the other – fear on top of fear. These are their tricks. We’ve always invested in the police while budgets for education are cut, while plans for investing in communities are pushed aside, while public housing and social safety nets are demonized and undone. We “starve the beast while the baby is smothered in its cradle.” And as sure as the sun rises and sets, one thing has kept pace with the rise of inequality, the diminishing of public resources, the disinvestment from communities and the deregulation of corporations: the inverse investment in policing. These practitioners of violence, this occupation born of slave catchers, these purveyors of the carceral system and prison industrial complex, those who profit from the storage of bodies and the stagnation of human possibility – they get all the money.

This is their trick: After a year of the most direct and widespread challenge to policing as we have seen in our lifetimes, in a time when people have felt empowered to and practiced at protest and confrontation since the first waves of Black liberation activism, when we as the working class are suffering from greater inequality than the citizens of revolutionary France – it makes perfect sense to build a cop city. Invest massive funds into the obedience organ of the state, especially in the face of protest and discontent, especially to assert the power you hold over a city, over a people, over possibility. So they want to build a cop city. Of course they do! This is the capital of inequality, afterall. Why not build a cop city?

Photo: Brandon M.

$90 million for a cop city. $90 million when our citizens are struggling to get through these uncertain days, when houselessness is on the steady incline while corporate interests buy up their single family homes and jack up the prices. Only time will tell what disasters lie ahead as evictions begin in full-force post-moratorium. $90 million when our health systems struggle under the weight of the Delta variant and those who need care are deprioritized while the rest continue their game of avoiding healthcare at all cost lest they be bankrupted. Death due to healthcare rationing. And they want to spend $90 million on a cop city.

Remember the Bad Ol’ Days of the pandemic? The quarantine days, where news stories told of people coming together while apart, or nature taking back cities, of people retreating to nature, or responsible socializing in parks and public spaces to maintain their mental and social health. Have we learned nothing from that? Are we not still all in this together? Don’t you still have that Black Lives Matter sign on your lawn? On your social media account history? In your polite conversations so far away from the view of the consequences of your inaction?  If so, then I ask that we do better. The consequences of this pandemic have disproportionately fallen on those middle, working and lower class people of Atlanta, which means the pandemic attacks and continues to attack Black lives. Do Black lives matter? Beyond the narrow scope of ending police brutality, do the Black lives that are your neighbors, coworkers, and fellow human beings matter? If your priority is to build a cop city, then the answer is no. And they want to build a cop city.

We don’t need a cop city. We need jobs with a living and just wage, especially in the south and west sides where gentrification, food apartheid, corporate redlining, and developer directed policing narrow the possibilities of those who were born and grown there: our neighbors, our fellow humans. You want to tackle crime? Without substantial investment in people, without a willingness to see and attack the fact that the everyday American has been given a raw deal by the same corporations that profit exorbitantly from their work, without this honesty, your calls for more police, for “law and order”, for cop city fall straight into the lineage of slave catchers, Jim Crow, Black codes, and sundown towns. Your strategies cannot be justified by a bage. We don’t need a cop city. We need opportunity. As long as crime is the most viable option, there will be crime. As long as the other option is starvation wages, crime and violence and disharmony will continue. As long as corporations and monied interests refuse to pay a living wage, crime will stay with us. We don’t need a cop city.

Photo: Brandon M.

We don’t need a cop city. We need a healthcare system that incentivizes preventative care, not one where you see a doctor as a last resort. Not one that is the leading cause of bankruptcy. Not one where perverse incentives and profit motive dictates who gets a hospital bed and who doesn’t. We need a healthcare system that asserts our humanity and removes the barbarity of profiting off illness. We need to confront the wreckage of our past year. We need to heal our pandemic of mental illness. We need structures of care and emotional and material support. We don’t need a cop city. 

We don’t need a cop city. We need green space. We need room to be human, to indulge in nature and for nature to protect us. Either we are serious about climate change or we are not. There is no convenient in between. No half-measures. If we are to take this issue seriously, we cannot clear vast swaths of green space from the city of Atlanta. Our green spaces, one of the largest remaining carbon sinks with naturally blazed trails begging for tending, begging to be protected, must be made precious. Make this space accessible. Invite those who have not been keen to side-step the chainlink fence that has walled off accessibility to it for years. Create a full-fledged park where humans are allowed to come and go as they please for their physical, mental and spiritual health. Humans are to come and go as they please on land that once was home to the prison farm — once a site for the auctioning of human bodies into servitude. This site is begging to be done justice, not begging for a cop city.

If any of the corporations that represent the ACP can even half-heartedly say that they care for the environment or run another ad about the importance of recycling, then they should have opposed this construction on its face. A cop city equipped with a full gun range, a full mock city for tactical exercises, building burning test sites, explosion sites – this would threaten ground and downstream water with contamination, threaten native wildlife, and potentially devastate biodiversity at the site. When these concerns are brought up, APF’s president David Wilkinson shows exactly how much he regards community input on the project: “We don’t want to spend six to nine months on hold while we are doing citizen engagement.” Will the same level of regard be given to an environmental impact study? We don’t need a cop city.
In the shadow of the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprisings where police brutality and eventually the nature of policing as we know it received a meaningful challenge for the first time in our generation, a challenge that was met with more brutality, “blue flu”, revelations of right-wing extremist infiltration of our police forces, and our fair share of tear gas to break up peaceful protests – they want to build a cop city. We don’t need a cop city. We need resources directed at the people who are struggling and fighting to just get by, resources that the people at the ACP and APF would tell you are best provided by building a cop city. I ask that you make it known to them and to our city council that you think otherwise. We need harm reduction, hunger reduction, and disparity reduction if we are to achieve crime reduction. We need more humanity, we need to protect our green space, we need more democracy, we need to treat the lives of all the citizens of our city – along with all the lives of the people of this world – as worthy, as precious, not as something to be profited on. This is why I (still) say Defund the police, re-fund the communities, fund the schools, fund small businesses and erect community run co-ops that provide experience, training and community bonds; erect a universal healthcare system that cares for each and every human life, protect our environment, repair our climate and house the houseless. We need many things, and we need to be rid of many things as a community, as humanity to make progress. We don’t need a cop city.