Some students and faculty members at historically Black Atlanta colleges and universities are speaking out against plans to build an 85-acre, $90 million police training facility nearby in forested land owned by the city.
The Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, nicknamed “Cop City” by its critics, was approved by the Atlanta Council in fall 2021. The complex is expected to include shooting ranges, a mock city for police training and a K-9 unit kennel, among other amenities, and would be a little less than 10 miles from the Atlanta University Center, which is home to four HBCUs.
The project has been the source of heated opposition for over a year from environmental activists and residents who believe the increased police presence may lead to potential police brutality. Some opponents also see the move as a capitulation to residents of Buckhead, a wealthier and predominantly white neighborhood in Atlanta, where some want to secede from the city because of its crime rates.
Atlanta mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond recently announced that they reached an agreement to move forward with the plans and provided details about environmental protections and community engagement efforts.
“Our training includes vital areas like de-escalation training techniques, mental health, community-oriented policing, crisis intervention training, as well as civil rights history, education,” Dickens said at a City Hall press conference. “This training needs space, and that’s exactly what this training center is going to offer.”
Opponents say military-style police training fosters an attitude that police are at war with the people they’re supposed to be protecting. Tensions and organizing around the issue have escalated, with no signs of abating, since the Jan. 18 killing of Manuel Terán, who was part of a group of environmental activists occupying the forest area in protest. Terán was shot more than a dozen times by law enforcement officials who were clearing protesters from the future building site, The Atlanta Constitution-Journal reported. Police alleged Terán shot and injured a state trooper, and multiple officers returned fire.
Students and scholars in the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC)—a coalition of Atlanta HBCUs including Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College—are among those fighting the plans. Their activism on the issue this month caught the attention of the mayor, who attended a reportedly tense meeting at Morehouse last week, and discussions continue to roil AUC campuses.
Student activists vocally brought attention to “Cop City” at a weekly speakers’ forum at Morehouse College on Feb. 2. A group of students from Morehouse and Spelman gathered in front of the stage in protest, and some denounced the planned facility in fiery speeches.
Students also pushed back on what they perceived as a tone-deaf joint statement made by Morehouse president David Thomas, the campus police chief, and the Student Government Association president, grieving the death of Tyre Nichols, an unarmed Black man killed by police in Memphis, Tenn., and calling for peaceful protest. The same statement said the SGA president had met with the mayor and the Atlanta Police Department chief to discuss the upcoming policing facility and “confirmed both leaders’ commitment to improved policing practices and relationships with the Black community.”