ATLANTA — Hundreds of protesters opposing the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center packed into City Hall Monday ahead of a council meeting. During the meeting, City Council introduced legislation to fund a portion of the $90 million project.
A spokesperson for the City Council confirmed nearly 300 people - 288 - had signed up for public comments, in a process they estimated would take nine hours.
Not all the people signing up for public comments necessarily intend to speak about the project - which opponents call "Cop City" - though social media posts showing the crowd at City Hall indicated the majority were there for that purpose.
11Alive's Cody Alcorn posted updates from inside the chamber. Council did not vote Monday night on the legislation to partially fund the project. The legislation will now go to the finance committee for a hearing next week.
11Alive's Joe Ripley was on scene, reporting that the resolution that appeared to spark the protest would apportion $33 million in city funds for the Public Safety Training Center. The money would represent the city's contribution to the building of the training facility, which is being majority funded by the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Activists posted photos and videos of the winding lines for public comment.
The construction is set to start in August on a portion of land in the South River Forest.
11Alive reported last month that by the end of June, the city has to write the police foundation a check for about half of that $33.5 million -- that is, once the City Council approves the payment. That would potentially come with this resolution that was anticipated in Monday's meeting.
It was not clear if the full council meeting would need to be postponed by the extensive public comment period.
The training center ostensibly cleared its last legal hurdle last month when the zoning board in DeKalb County rejected an appeal against the land disturbance permit - basically, a construction permit - for the project. Opponents have asked a DeKalb court to review that decision, but it's not yet clear if the DeKalb Superior Court will take any action on their filing.
Protesters were occupying the forest where the facility is to be built, in semi-permanent treehouse encampments, off and on for more than a year - building a movement against the facility that has grown substantially since the law enforcement shooting death of a protester, Manuel Paez Teran, in January.
The plan is to build the facility on land - the old Atlanta Prison Farm complex - owned by the City of Atlanta and being leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation.
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.
The project's backers - including the law enforcement community, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond - have argued it would improve training and community ties, framing it as an answer to police reform demands to eliminate contentious policing practices and reduce tensions between the police department and the public.