On Jan. 18, 2023, just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, an environmental activist named Manuel Terán, known to most as Tortuguita, was shot 57 times by police officers. Police claimed that Tortuguita, who died on the scene, had shot and injured an officer immediately before his death. However, a subsequent autopsy showed that Tortuiguita had likely died sitting cross-legged, with his hands (which contained no gunpowder residue) in the air. Additionally, police body cam footage contained audio of an officer saying that the injured police officer was wounded by friendly fire, not Tortuguita.
Tortuguita died protesting the construction of “Cop City,” a $90 million police training facility designed to instruct police in urban warfare tactics. The killing of Tortuguita is merely the most visceral example of the Atlanta Police Department suppressing dissent. This repression, which includes using counterinsurgency tactics against peaceful protestors, directly threatens any semblance of democratic institutions in America and displays the necessity of police abolition.
Cop City, officially the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, is located in the middle of one of Atlanta’s largest remaining green spaces, the Weelaunee Forest. The 85-acre training center, situated near majority-Black neighborhoods, would include a shooting range and a mock city. Protestors have staged marches and sit-ins to block the construction of the facility.
In response, the APD has unleashed unconstrained state terror on protestors. In Dec. 2022, five activists who engaged in civil disobedience were charged with domestic terrorism. The June before that, police were filmed threatening a journalist with arrest unless he deleted footage he’d taken of the police. In March, police raided a music festival put on by environmental organizers and detained 35 people; 23 of those arrested were charged with domestic terrorism. Later that month, police attacked a protest campsite, slashing medical tents, smashing van windows, damaging greenhouses and confiscating literature.
May saw perhaps the most blatant violation of free speech yet, as three activists were arrested simply for affixing flyers that named a police officer involved in the homicide of Tortuguita to mailboxes. Those arrested were allegedly held in solitary confinement, denied bond and are facing felony and misdemeanor charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The APD has also targeted the organizers of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a support network for arrested activists. On May 31, heavily armed riot police arrested three organizers with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund and charged them with money laundering because the organizers had reimbursed themselves for minor expenses related to the recent protests (such as for gasoline, signs and forest clean-up supplies). In September, 61 activists were arrested on similarly dubious racketeering charges.
These attacks on free expression do not just threaten people living in Georgia, because repressive police tactics have a habit of spreading. In 2003, police suppressed anti-capitalist protests in Miami through a combination of pre-emptive arrests and violent baton charges. This method, coined the Miami model, soon spread, with police forces around the country using them to suppress the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests. Considering that the APD is actively trying to recruit officers from other cities, the tactics being used to repress the Stop Cop City movement could easily become commonplace across America.
Importantly, police brutality is a feature of our modern carceral system, not a bug. American police forces were formed out of runaway slave patrols and were modeled after the colonial cops who enforced the sadistic laws of the British Empire. The goal of the police has always been to enforce unequal economic systems: first as slave-catchers and now as the guard dogs of capitalism. This relationship is well illustrated by Cop City, which is being funded by large corporations. Executives from Delta Airlines, Wells Fargo and even Waffle House also sit on the board of the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is footing two-thirds of the bill for Cop City, a whopping $60 million. Violent police repression will not be stopped via legislative reforms because both the Democratic and Republican parties have proven to be staunchly pro-police. During Donald Trump’s presidency, riot police attacked peaceful demonstrators en masse during the 2020 protests following the death of George Floyd, and Joe Biden recently approved funding to hire 100,00 more police officers, pouring lighter fluid on the raging fire of systemic racism.
Only aggressive anti-police resistance will be sufficient to stop Cop City. The APD threw activists in solitary confinement and handed them felony charges simply for taping flyers to mailboxes. It does not matter how peaceful our resistance is, because the police will not tolerate any sort of defiance. Therefore, we must use any and all means at our disposal to fight back against police terror. These methods can include joining a police abolition group, joining movements that call for police accountability (such as the Justice for Faisal movement located in Cambridge) and voting for politicians that support police abolition. Additionally, Block Cop City organizers will be hosting a training in Boston on Oct. 2, where you can learn how to help stop the construction of Cop City and use mass direct action and grassroots organizing to make a difference in your own community. The climax of this resistance will occur on Nov. 13, when there will be a mass march on the planned construction site in Atlanta to forcefully put a stop to Cop City.