Some students and faculty members in the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC) are joining the fight against plans to build an 85-acre, $90 million police training facility nearby in the forested land, Weelaunee Forest.
The Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, nicknamed “Cop City” was publicly announced in 2021, and will serve as a training center for Atlanta police and firefighters. The center is expected to include shooting ranges, a mock city for police training, and a K-9 unit kennel, and would be a little less than 10 miles from the AUCC.
Environmental activists and residents have opposed and protested against the center for over a year, believing that the increased police presence may lead to more violence and police brutality.
Students at Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, and Spelman College are among those opposing the project.
On Feb. 2, student activists hosted a forum at Morehouse to denounce the training center. Students gathered in front of the stage in protest and delivered passionate speeches.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the students made several demands, including that Morehouse president David Thomas denounce the training center as he is a board member of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, which backed the creation of the training facility. Spelman’s president, Helene Gayle, is also on the board.
Members of the Spelman student chapter of the National Action Network, a national civil rights organization, gathered over the weekend to draft a letter to Gayle, calling on her to denounce the facility.
However, Spelman officials expressed their support for the students as they “address the key social issues of our times,” according to Inside Higher Ed “We also recognize the important responsibility that the City has for maintaining public safety and the role that training can play in making needed improvements.”
Morehouse professors also showed support for the cause by signing an open letter opposing the center.
Thirty-two educators condemned the project and called on “civic leaders and fellow educators” to do the same.
Andrew Douglas, a political science professor, and chair of the Morehouse Faculty Council said he’s concerned the site could lead to more violence in the community. “Part of the problem with ‘Cop City’ too is it’s a very clearly preparing the police force in a militarized type of way. And I think it calls for shooting ranges, they’re practicing large-scale crowd, suppression strategies. You know, this is about bringing military tactics to our cities in our communities,” he said.
However, in a press conference, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the new training facility aims to address public safety concerns. “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.
In response to the student protest, Mayor Dickens met with Morehouse students on campus last week.
Douglas called the meeting a “very, very tense encounter.” He also noted that it was “very clear that the mayor was not going to change his view on things.”
According to Inside Higher Ed, students asked about the environmental impact of the project, how the city planned to mitigate police brutality, and why the training center is being prioritized over other city needs.
Dickens reportedly responded to hecklers in the audience who questioned his commitment to the community, saying, “I ain’t never been a sellout,” he said. “You’ve got the wrong résumé that you’re looking at. I know you like to yell … and shout out things just to be heard. You’ve been heard.”
Daxton Pettus, a sophomore at Morehouse said the AUCC students plan to continue to raise awareness about “Cop “City.” Inside Higher Ed reports that Pettus and others went to Spelman’s on-campus market to bring awareness to the topic and that they even have a group chat for AUCC students to keep up with the protests, which recently reached 400 members.