Some readings to place the #StopCopCity movement in historical perspective.
A coalition of people across the Atlanta area have been engaged in a struggle to end the construction of a police training facility known as Cop City. The facility threatens over 380 acres of forest on Atlanta’s south side. In addition to the destruction of climate saving canopy, CopCity would pose health risks associated with toxic material exposure to the inhabits of Black communities adjacent to the forest. The forest is named Weelaunee by the Mvskoke people — the original inhabits of Georgia.
Activists have been holding gatherings in the forest for over a year — some taking direct action by camping out in trees. Police of several agencies, including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Atlanta Police Department, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s office, as well as other federal agencies have been involved in repressing the forest defenders. On Wednesday, January 18h, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán — one of the protestors in the forest — was killed by Georgia police. There has yet to be an investigation or a release of details. Tėran’s family conducted an autopsy — 13 bullets had entered his body.
Construction of Cop City has been overwhelmingly opposed by residents, the majority of those who would live near the proposed facility (and would be exposed to the noise and any toxic waste associated with the “training”) are “working class” Black folk.
Terán, like Tyre Nichols was murdered by police in jurisdictions that have Black mayors. The police official responsible for assembling the unit that ended Tyre Nichol’s life was fired from the Atlanta police.
You can read histories of the forest as well as several histories of the protest movement.
The state — including the mayor of Atlanta — describes the forest defenders as “terrorists” and “outside agitators”. The governor of Georgia has called up 1000 national guard troops to provide “safety” (for property). A state of emergency remains in effect.
The movement to defend the forest can be understood in the context of centuries long Black & Indigenous resistance in Atlanta and its surroundings, and in the context of class divides that have been present in Atlanta’s Black community for over a century. A few themes that keep returning include:
Black and Indigenous Climate Protection
- Climate Justice: Black and Native Attention as Miracle, Loam Collective
- Rehearsals for Living, Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a conversation on the intersections of LandBack, Reparations, and horizons of Black and Indigenous freedom.
- Our History is the Future, Nick Estes, a detailed study of the Indigenous land and water defender movement
- What has struck me is the difference in language that the West uses to described the actions of forest defenders elsewhere — for example in Brazil contrasted with the violence that the state (federal, state and local governments in Georgia) are using against similar actions within the country. The murder of Terán is apparently unprecedented in the history of radical climate action with the u.s.
Modalities of Southern Black Radicalism
- There has been a persistent message from press and Atlanta city government that the StopCopCity protesters constitute a “break” with the “orderly” and “peaceful” tradition of Black protest in Atlanta. This position erases centuries of creative radical praxis, described in some of the books shown
- Intimate Direct Democracy, Modibo Kadalie, Black maroonage in the southeast during the 18th and 19th centuries.
- Prophet of Discontent Andrew J. Douglas and Jared Loggins. An analysis of the radicalism of Martin Luther King, Jr. through the lens of racial capitalism.
- Black Reconstruction in America, W.E.B. DuBois, chapters on how the enslaved in Georgia were agents of their own liberation and brought progressive institutions to the South, for example the introduction of public schooling.
- The Nation on No Map: Black Anarchism and Abolition, William C Anderson
- Diverging Space for Deviants, Akira Drake Rodriguez, Black woman organizing for freedom in Atlanta’s public housing spaces
Complexities of Class Oppression in Black Atlanta
- The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta, Maurice J. Hobson
- The Evidence of Things Not Seen, James Baldwin, on how Atlanta’s Black political leadership handled the murders of 28 Black children in 1979-1980.
- Nobody Knows My Name, James Baldwin, In the essay A Letter from the South, Baldwin delivers brutal honesty in his critique of class oppression in Black Atlanta.
- South to America, by Imani Perry is a brilliant reflection and unfolding of the New South.
The Theft and Reclamation of the Commons
- I’m reminded of Haitian director Raoul Peck’s The Young Karl Marx — the opening scene shows German peasants being attacked (circa 1842) — some killed — for the “crime” of gathering wood, a debate Marx takes on in “Debates on the Law on Thefts of Wood”. Marx writes, “The wood thief has robbed the forest owner of wood, but the forest owner has made use of the wood thief to purloin the state itself”.
- As Claudio Saunt writes in The New Order of Things, Georgia history is how to commodify and steal the sacred Indigenous commons.
The Atlanta Solidarity Network fund was established to support the protestors and other activists. Please contribute.
One of the most inspiring protests was staged by students of Atlanta’s HBCUs — Morrris Brown, Clark Atlanta University, Spelman and Morehouse College (of which I am an alumni)
The readings only touch on a section of the issues at play, but provide a starting point