This author was browsing Twitter and found a recurring phrase on my timeline, “Stop Cop City.” Conventional wisdom told me “Cop City” is the surplus amount of police officers in one community. I did more research to answer the following questions: What is “Cop City”? Why is this happening? Why is it controversial? Answering these questions may make “Cop City” do more good than harm in Atlanta.
What is ‘Cop City’?
“Cop City” is a term used for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center by leaders of Community Movement Builders, an Atlanta-based advocacy group. The corporate and private funders of the Atlanta Police Foundation are financing the training center’s construction. Some of the most well-known financial backers of the project include UPS, Georgia State University, Wells Fargo and Amazon. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides nongovernmental funding to the Atlanta Police Department.
For example, Amazon allows law enforcement backers, like the Atlanta Police Foundation, to collect donations through their AmazonSmile program — the company’s charity initiative. Amazon is allowed to donate 0.5% of customer proceeds to the foundation, according to Salon. The amount of money Amazon has donated to the foundation fluctuates.
What type of training should ‘Cop City’ focus on?
According to Atlanta’s City Council, the facility expects to include classrooms of shooting ranges, emergency vehicle driver and urban police training. Urban police training is important because of the need for police need to engage more positively with urban communities. An urban area typically includes people of different racial backgrounds, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses. Training officers in this environment has been a challenge for police departments due to the variety of citizens and situations they encounter.
For example, some citizens have mental illnesses and suffer from drug or alcohol addictions. When dealing with those suffering under such conditions, urban police training must involve managing conflict. Physical confrontations by police in these circumstances should be a last resort. Officers should be mandated to use conflict resolution skills and only use their firearms if a suspect is armed.
In other words, city officials should prioritize conflict management skills in police training. The public rarely hears about police peacefully resolving a conflict, which leads to the question of whether they can successfully be trained to do so. A research study from ScienceDirect found police officers can indeed manage conflicts effectively. Repeated video simulations of these practices must be shown to police officers in training. The study’s abstract states, “The program was developed for the Belgian Gendarmery in response to institutional changes reflecting an increased emphasis on safe interventions in the management of violence.” This is why police brutality cases in Belgium are much lower than in the U.S.
What have police done in Atlanta?
An article from “Stop Cop City” claims the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to be a military base where police train for maneuvers to kill black people and control their bodies and movements. Jamal Taylor, a Community Movement organizer, says the center amounts to a mock city where trainees practice urban warfare. One can point to the facility’s infrastructure, which includes classrooms of shooting ranges, to explain why Taylor believes that “Cop City” is a potential menace. Police officers have a history of shooting black people wrongfully in Atlanta.
For instance, a police officer named Garrett Rolfe shot Rayshard Brooks when the victim was inebriated while he was running away from the scene. Previously, he had fallen asleep in his car at Wendy’s drive-through, which brought two officers to the location. The cops conducted field sobriety tests on Brooks and questioned whether he was drinking, which he admitted. A breathalyzer test showed his blood-alcohol level was over the legal driving limit, which lead to his arrest. He tried to run away, stole a cop’s taser, and fired it at Rolfe and the other officer.
Also, a 21-year-old father of two, Jimmy Atchison, was shot by a cop as he allegedly stole a woman’s cellphone. The case investigation found Atchison did not have a weapon. A report written by the security.org team states minorities are overrepresented in police shootings in cities like Atlanta. Why would police there need more training for urban warfare? Shouldn’t there be more training to prevent situations like Brooks’ and Atchison’s? Is domestic terrorism a problem in Atlanta?
Ironically, 23 protesters were charged with domestic terrorism in an incident where a protester named Manuel Teran had been killed by law enforcement after he shot an officer. If protesting was categorized as a domestic terrorism act, then will future protests be considered the same? Jamal Tayor is reasonably skeptical of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center because of the high probability of future political protests involving the destruction of property and violence toward police officers, given the amount of anti-establishment sentiment in Atlanta. This “thinking” gives more reason to prioritize conflict resolution over the other types of training in the new facility.
Why is ‘Cop City’ happening?
According to Sean Keenan, an Atlanta-based reporter who wrote the New York Times article “The Fight Over Cop City,” the training facility’s purpose is to boost the morale, retention and recruitment of police officers since the summer of “George Floyd”. The goal is to improve police tactics to allow for more positive public interactions. This new facility will include extensive public input from the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee that was implemented by the Atlanta City Council in 2021. The committee recommends new ways to operate according to the community’s wants and needs. Atlanta’s mayor has also created a task force to further engage the public on the facility’s operations and plans, according to an article from Decaturish.
The reason for racial minorities committing petty crimes has to be considered as well. The facility should use urban police training for situations like these because an offender may be unstable due to drugs, alcohol, or other conditions, such as Rayshard Brooks’ and Jimmy Atchison’s situations. The Atlanta Police Foundation has a history of financing projects to harass black people. Georgia’s Bureau of Investigations has opened more than 90 cases of alleged police violations in 2023.
What have the police done in Atlanta (continued)?
Have the police been harassing black people unfairly? Many of the officers involved in shootings are under investigation. Some police shootings are justified as well, such a when a suspect is armed.
An example of a justified shooting occurred in Macon, Ga., in 2021. Larry Marquez Bryant, Jr. committed a traffic violation when using his phone while driving. A Georgia State Patrol trooper initiated a traffic stop, intending to pull Bryant over to the side of the road. Bryant did not stop, so the trooper chased after Bryant, along with other GSP troopers. The chase continued with Bryant eventually wrecking his car, which caused a foot chase to ensue.
During the chase, two troopers tried to taser Bryant, but only one was effective. Bryant fired a gun at a state trooper vehicle with an officer inside who was struck five times. He ran away from the scene and eventually threw his gun into the trash and surrendered to the troopers. This situation was handled fairly by law enforcement because the suspect had a weapon.
In 2022, Calhoun Police Department officers shot an individual named Jose Brito Lopez during a burglary. Lopez illegally broke into a home in Calhoun. The officers shouted for the burglar to show them his hands, which he failed to do. It’s unclear why he did not comply with their demands. Lopez had a knife and approached the officers. One of the officers effectively tasered Lopez leading to the other officer shooting Lopez. This came after a cop tasered him ineffectively. Lopez is a minority who committed petty crimes of trespassing and committing burglary with a knife.
Why is urban police training important?
Was this situation mishandled? No, the cop should have safely removed the knife from the individual, which is why training in urban tactics is essential. State officials should provide video simulations of removing a knife from a suspect to prevent instances like the Lopez situation. Those same officials should also provide various video simulations with different techniques in situations with others who may exhibit a distorted state of mind due to intoxication and/or mental health issues.
What are the chances a civilian knows how to use a knife effectively? Unlikely, because many civilians don’t have the training to do so. Also, a civilian be in a distorted state of mind at the time, so using “disarming weapons” techniques is crucial. This idea is backed by the research findings from ScienceDirect as it uses peaceful conflict resolution tactics.
Urban police training would have restricted the police officer from using a gun because it is unnecessary. This relates to how countries like Norway, Denmark and Switzerland have little to no police incidents, according to a report from the World Population Review. The critical commonality between these counties is police there are unarmed. Such a correlation suggests improved police equipment and militarized training could lead to black people being harassed and killed if community police training is inadequate.
What is the impact of ‘Cop City’?
Next, there was a recent survey in 2021 where 85% of criminal justice experts agreed with the idea of increased spending on healthcare, education and housing. Additionally, about two–thirds of the panel said that an increase in police budgets would improve public safety. These sentiments are examples of what has caused community movement builders like Jamal Taylor and Kwame Olufemi, the author of “What is Cop City? – Stop Cop City,” to organize direct actions and protests. Community Movement Builder organizers agree with 85% of criminal justice experts who advocate for increased spending in these three critical areas.
Someone else who agrees with 85% of criminal justice experts is Jasmine Burnett, who is a longtime skeptic of the Atlanta Police Foundation. Burnett formed a coalition called Defund the APD, Refund Communities, also known as DARC. The purpose of DARC is to advocate for the reinvestment of public money in urban communities.
DARC also includes members who canvass through neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by police violence. Members focus on community awareness through education for their budget. As a result, DARC created a media campaign called “Not Our Budget.” DARC members combined their efforts with other Atlanta-based organizations to promote the campaign “Stop Cop City”. They hosted weekly events such as reading groups, potlucks, community nurturing, movement buildings, protests and canvassing. “Cop City” has made an uproar in Atlanta for a good reason.
People, especially black people, should feel skeptical of a facility built for more military-like training. We are wary because of how Atlanta police have treated minorities in the past. The facility is an answer to calls for police reform in America, and the inclusion of the community helps with reform. The opportunity for how an ordinary citizen could influence how the facility operates should alleviate the stress for those concerned about its implications.
Will the training be sufficient? Military-like and urban training are synonymous with taking a weapon away from a criminal. Someone who commits a crime may be poor and trying to provide for themselves and their families. This has been the plight of black people for too long. Police should focus more on resolving conflicts without the deadly use of a weapon. A part of the solution going forward is more transparency regarding the quality of training at the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
On a macroscopic level, Americans increasingly distrust police because they are failing to keep the public safe and maintain peace. Thus, some have advocated for the defunding of police forces. If law enforcement funds were reallocated to housing, education and healthcare programs, thus improving the quality of life in poor and minority neighborhoods, would crime decrease in urban America?
Jasmine Burnett says, “The people who are killing us can’t be the people who are keeping us safe.” Atlanta-based social movements and campaigns like “Stop Cop City,” DARC, “Not Our Budget” and the Atlanta City Council need a transparent means of communication to ensure that “Cop City” isn’t harming black communities. They must work together to develop new strategies to keep the public safe. That’s how you build trust.
Featured image: Photo by ev on Unsplash
Edited by: James Sutton