UCWGA Endorses 'Cop City' Referendum Movement in Atlanta Public Safety Training Center Construction
United Campus Workers of Georgia (UCWGA) endorses the movement to hold a referendum on the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center- also known as “Cop City”- in DeKalb County. Development of this project, which requires leasing 381 acres to the Atlanta Police Foundation and is expected to cost over $90 million, has been marked from the beginning by the suppression of public opposition. We are concerned the handling of this matter threatens to set dangerous precedents for the suppression of dissent in the state of Georgia. In 2021, members of the community gave 17 hours of public comment, overwhelmingly in opposition. Again in 2023, as the city council prepared to approve funding, unprecedented numbers of residents came out to speak against it. Following the vote by the Atlanta City Council to fund the project, activists successfully organized a city-wide referendum campaign.
An expenditure of this magnitude directly affects UCWGA members. Since the 1970s, states and cities have reduced funding to public education and other services while increasing the proportion of state money dedicated to law enforcement and incarceration. This prioritization of law enforcement over other public services has had far-reaching effects on the lives of faculty, staff, and students in the University System of Georgia.
Though the Training Center referendum campaign is playing out in the city of Atlanta, the push for the training center’s development will have and already has had far reaching impacts on democracy and protest movements. As state employees and activists, we note the involvement of Georgia state and county governments and law enforcement offices as unnecessary and overreaching escalations.
There have been several concerning actions and events. DeKalb County ceded the land planned for the construction of Cop City in a manner that failed to value transparency. Georgia state troopers shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán in January of 2023 in a raid that was not recorded on police body cameras. Governor Brian Kemp then issued a “state of emergency” in Atlanta, pledging to send up to 1,000 members of the National Guard to the city to quell any rioting or disturbance. In the subsequent months, dozens of activists opposed to Cop City have been charged with “domestic terrorism”. The Georgia Attorney General initiated the raid of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund and the arrest of three of its coordinators despite dubious evidence of any illegal activity.
In the wake of the historic protests against police violence to unarmed civilians in the summer of 2020, cities and counties across the country took the opportunity to reimagine public safety beyond bolstering budgets for law enforcement and incarceration. This historic moment reoriented public discussion of what constitutes public safety. UCWGA supports the referendum seeking more democratic input into the process. The residents of unincorporated DeKalb, where the facility is to be built, have not been able to participate in the decision-making process. We applaud the recent federal decision allowing DeKalb County residents to circulate referendum petitions. We support the family of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran and others calling for an independent investigation of their death. We stand with the ACLU, Fair Fight Georgia, Senators Raphael Warnock and John Osoff, and many others in expressing concerns about several aspects of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center and believe the referendum will justly allow the voices of Atlanta voters to be heard on this matter.