Despite months of protest and hours of public comments, the Atlanta City Council voted Tuesday to fund a project dubbed “Cop City,” a police training campus that will be carved out of the Weelaunee Forest.
In the face of a diverse community overwhelmingly opposing the project, council member Michael Julian Bond invoked his father, the civil rights figure Julian Bond, in justifying his yes vote. Strikingly, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens also has defended Cop City by noting that it will offer training in “civil rights history.”
Activists have pledged to continue their drive to stop Cop City even as repressive measures are being used to intimidate and deter them — measures including the invoking of a domestic terrorism law to charge protesters, the fatal police shooting of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran and the targeting of bail funds.
Last week, Atlanta police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested three activists, Marlon Kautz, Adele Maclean and Savanna Patterson, all associated with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a nonprofit that for seven years has provided jail support and bail money for people arrested in connections with protests. The arrests of these advocates for the fund alarmed civil libertarians, lawyers and activists.
Some Georgia politicians are all too happy to tout the civil rights movement’s legacy even as they embrace Cop City and accept the repressive measures of its boosters. But this very history shows that the criminalizing of activism is not new. In the 1960s and 1970s, threatened by the growing influence of civil rights and Black Power activists, law enforcement and other officials targeted them — subjecting them to surveillance, wanton arrests, spurious prosecutions and high bails to undercut their efforts. Collecting money for bail became a necessity of solidarity and movement-building in the face of these tactics. To look at the history of the Black freedom struggle through the lens of bail is to recognize a long history of state action to paint activists as dangerous and to thwart them through criminal prosecution.
While bail funds are often cast as a new tactic of the Black Lives Matter era, they have long been key to the defense against the criminalization of dissent and necessary for building movement solidarity and commitment.
In 1960, sit-ins swept the South in a mass push to end racial segregation at lunch counters and other restaurants. Many who participated were arrested. A broad range of supporters, including local business owners, activists’ parents and the NAACP, pooled money to bail out hundreds of jailed protesters.