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Atlanta 'Cop City' sees large law enforcement operation again; GBI says barricades being cleared

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed it was one of the responding agencies, and the 11Alive Sky Tracker flew over the site and observed APD on scene.

ATLANTA — Law enforcement agencies mounted a large response Tuesday at the encampment protesting a future Atlanta police and fire training center that opponents have dubbed "Cop City."

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed it was one of the responding agencies. 11Alive's Sky Tracker flew over the site and observed Atlanta Police Department officers and vehicles also present.

The GBI said it was "part of a joint task force formed to combat the ongoing criminal activity at the construction site of the Atlanta Police Department’s new training facility."

"Today, we are assisting the Atlanta Police Department and other local, state, and task force members with removing barricades blocking some of the entrances to the training center," the GBI said.

A group representing the protest movement emailed news organizations and said officers were using tear gas and pepper balls on those who have been camping at the site, who call themselves forest defenders.

A blog associated with the movement reported last month that protesters had cleared some trees to block access to a portion of the South River Forest area that they've said is used by police as a shooting range. Several other forms of barriers have been erected to block access to parts of the site at varying points. 

The protesters have had semi-permanent encampments for about a year in the forested area where the Atlanta Police Foundation intends to build the training facility.

The foundation says, under a plan approved by the Atlanta City Council, that it will build on 85 acres of the site and preserve the remaining 180 acres as green space. 

The protesters have opposed the facility on environmental and historical grounds, saying it would decimate one of the largest preserved forest areas in the city and desecrate historically Native American land of the Muscogee Creek people, who once lived in the woods and called it the Weelaunee Forest before being displaced by white settlers in the early 19th Century.

They also oppose it on the grounds that the land was once the site of the Old Prison Farm, a carceral complex that was billed during its operation in the mid-20th Century as an "Honor Farm" where prisoners farmed the land as a "dignified" means of imprisonment, a practice which has since been scrutinized for its profit generation and exploitation of unpaid labor.

Atlanta Police have characterized the tree-sitters occupying the forest as outsiders, though there has been visible local opposition from community groups who oppose the facility both environmentally and for its placement in a predominantly Black section of the city.

Kwame Olufemi of Community Movement told 11Alive's La'Tasha Givens earlier this year it was "clearly not for us, it’s not for our community and it’s going to be adverse to us and our people."

The city's law enforcement community has countered that the proposed $90 million facility would be a crucial component in stabilizing the police force, aiding in recruitment and retention after low morale and departures following the racial and criminal justice protests of 2020.

"We will continue to move forward with the mission of constructing this state-of-the-art public safety training facility that will allow us to teach and train recruits and our tenured police officers and firefighters in an environment that is safe, aesthetically pleasing and technically capable of moving public safety training forward," APD said in a statement this year.

There have been several clashes between the protesters and police or other city service employees this year, including as recently as a few days ago with DeKalb Fire personnel. 11Alive's Doug Richards also reported last month on a Dallas mechanic who said he was accosted at the site while in the area looking for junk he could refurbish.

Mayor Andre Dickens has backed law enforcement and the facility, both voting for it as a City Council member before his election as mayor and warning the protesters this year that "if they keep it up they're gonna be considered repeat offenders and they're gonna be on court watch."

Earlier this year, city officials said they had hoped to start construction by the end of 2022, though it's unclear to what extent the protest movement has delayed that.


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