Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman presides during a meeting before a council vote over whether to approve public funding for the construction of a proposed police and firefighter training center on Monday, June 5, 2023. Credit: Itoro N. Umontuen / The Atlanta Voice

After a nearly 15-hour public comment session culminating in a 5:30 am vote, the Atlanta City Council, in an 11-4 vote, voted to allocate $31 million in city funds toward the completion of a new public safety center.

The nearly 15-hour public comment session was the second longest outside 2021’s initial public comment session. While the third largest, a 7-hour public comment session last month, was also on the same subject.

The training facility, famously dubbed ‘Cop City’ by residents and activists alike, has been at the center of controversy since its announcement in early 2021.

Since that vote, the city of Atlanta has seen a wave of new protests, pushback, and public engagement sessions that have been contentious.

At the heart of the contention are three larger topics: the first, a continuation of dubious business dealings by the city; the second, the environmental impact of this project; and third, the deal is seen as a good faith offering for positive re-engagement of the police after the summer of 2020. 

A group of Atlanta Police officers stand on the second floor of Atlanta City Hall during an activist-led rally decrying a funding package for the proposed public safety training center on Monday, June 5, 2023. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice) Credit: Itoro N. Umontuen / The Atlanta Voice

That summer, officers walked off the job in what was known as ‘the Blue Flu.’ Then-members of APD also received two stipends for remaining on the force, and officers also saw no prosecution for the impact of not policing in 2020. That initial announcement of the police project was followed by a series of pushbacks regarding the lack of transparency in the project culminating in a contentious September 2021 vote in favor of the facility. In the wake of that vote, the project has been delayed for two years due to a series of protests, including occupying the section of the South River Forest where the training facility is to be located.

That section of Atlanta, surrounded by unincorporated southwest DeKalb County had already had environmental concerns before the announcement. South DeKalb residents and those who study the environment, such as Jackie Echols of the South River Watershed Alliance, are concerned the facility will contribute to the continual pollution in the area.

Echols presented during the public comment period. Echols has been vocal in attempting to get the city of Atlanta, APD, APF, and DeKalb County commissioners to consider the issues of soil erosion and other pollutants being introduced to the majority black communities that already live there.

Other Black leaders, including members of the NAACP, the Working Families Party, prominent black clergy members, and Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., have all come out against the project. While US Senator Raphael Warnock has come out to voice his concerns over aspects of the project, including lack of transparency and labeling protestors as ‘domestic terrorists.’

After a series of legal setbacks earlier this year, the site saw it finally get the go-ahead this April. ‘Cop City’s’ Monday vote saw the Atlanta City Council and City Hall be closed entirely to outside visitors due to the anticipated demand.

For the city council, the move represents a steady but growing schism between leadership and residents. Despite the unsubstantiated claims of people not from Atlanta against the facility, the 2021 and 2023 sessions have been heavily featured with Atlanta residents who opposed the site.

The continued opposition for Mayor Dickens and certain city council members supporting this project has led to a tarnishing reputation and continued frayed relationships with the police, which lingers three later. The 2023 vote echoed the 2021 vote as all Eastside council members, Antonio Lewis, Liliana Bakhtiari, and Keshia Waites, voted ‘no.’ In addition, one Westside member, Jason Dozier, voted against the project.