ATLANTA — Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is creating a task force to get community insight on the plans to develop the Atlanta public safety training center.
The task force will also focus on gathering input about the grounds that include the former prison farm, according to a news release from the City of Atlanta.
The task force will add to the work being done by the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee. One of the committee’s community representatives recently filed a motion to halt construction at the site of the training center, or as critics call it, “Cop City.”
The motion was denied.
The site of the future training center has been a topic of contention. Groups opposed to the building of the site said that the land being used to build the training center is historically Native American land.
Kamau Franklin has been vocal about opposing the facility.
"I think the mayor and the City of Atlanta are engaged in a form of propaganda. I don't think this new task force is going to do anything different than the old one," Franklin said.
The mayor's office said it's looking for broader and more diverse community input. Franklin believes the community has already spoken.
"Why not listen to the larger community of Atlanta and stop building this?" Franklin said.
In addition to these claims, the land is being built on top of the old grounds of the Atlanta Prison Farm, which the city does not dispute. The prison farm was a jail complex that used prison labor as a means to farm the land. Also known as “honor farms,” they have since been scrutinized for their profit generation and exploitation of unpaid labor.
Tensions reached an all-time high after an activist was killed and a trooper was injured while law enforcement cleared protestors living in the forest. The death of the activist, Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, sparked a demonstration in Downtown Atlanta that left a police vehicle charred and damaged several buildings.
Since then, the community representative's motion to halt construction was denied. In early February, 32 educators at Historically Black Colleges and Universities signed a letter opposing the building of the site.
Following the months of contention surrounding the site, Dickens has decided to create the task force, which will contain 40 members.
The goal of the force is to get feedback from residents living in "neighborhoods adjacent to the site," the release said.
"Go back to the drawing board and do something that saves the forest and protects the community that is surrounding the forest," Franklin said.
Community member’s feedback will then be used to “provide recommendations to the city” in four areas:
- Parks & green space
- Visioning, memorializing, and repurposing the former Atlanta Prison Farm site
- Sustainability and resilience
- Police, fire, and E-911 training curriculum
Micah Herskind is not convinced.
"Take this money, that you plan on using to destroy a forest, and put it into housing, and healthcare, and fixing our streets, and childcare, and youth programs, alternatives to policing," Herskind said.
The release said the training center has used input from the community to make changes to the site.
The city plans to remove explosives training and ordinance disposal from the site, but will still have the firing range. The firing range was planned closer to residential areas, but will now be moved south, according to the release.
More soundproofing will be done to reduce the sound of gunshots from the firing range. Trees will also line portions of the site that face residents' homes.
Public parking will also be added to the training site. The release did not say how close the "trail and green space access" would be to the gun range or other training areas.
Sidewalks, security cameras, license plate readers, and streetlights will be added. Sidewalks will only be constructed along Key Road, the release said.
A pavilion and other "accessible meeting spaces" will be created, according to city leaders. The main entrance will also be moved to Constitution Road, instead of Key Road, which was initially planned.
Dickens will name the task force members in March and "seek an initial set of recommendations by July," according to the release.
Herskind said it seems like Atlanta is building this facility no matter what the community thinks.
"It's hard not to see it as just a way to get around community input because the fact is that the city has already received such overwhelmingly negative input from its residents," Herskind said.
Franklin said organizers are planning a week of protest next week.