Since April 2021, police abolitionists and environmentalists have been engaged in a furious struggle to prevent the destruction of a precious stretch of forest in Atlanta, Georgia, where the government aims to build a police training compound and facilitate the construction of a giant soundstage for the film industry.
In the following analysis, participants in the movement chronicle a year of action, tracing the movement’s victories and setbacks and exploring the strategies that inform it.
This campaign represents a crucial effort to chart new paths forward in the wake of the George Floyd Rebellion, linking the defense of the land that sustains us with the struggle against police.
This week, activists in Atlanta announced a new website, stopreevesyoung.com, and a nationwide day of action on May 1 aimed at pressuring the construction firm hired to destroy the forest. On April 22-23, Muscogee community members and forest defenders will gather in the forest for discussions, skill shares, and a press conference. A third week of action is scheduled for May 8 through 15.
If you are looking for ways to keep the earth inhabitable and put a stop to police oppression, this could be your chance.
Read on to learn the lessons of a year of forest defense.
“When a tree is growing, it’s tender and pliant. But when it’s dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.”
–Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky
Defending the Forest in the City
Atlanta is a city in a forest, with the most tree coverage of any urban center in America. The South River Forest constitutes the largest continuous section of this forest; it functions as the “lungs” of the city, trapping carbon emissions and runoff in its marshy lands and dense tree canopy. The South River Forest connects other forested areas across the entire southern half of the city and up the east side into Decatur.
It is not uncommon to see deer running or playing in the woods—a breathtaking experience, especially in a city. Away from surveillance cameras and strip malls, teenagers go on dates, enthusiasts ride mountain bikes, and elderly people walk their dogs.
This is where the governments of Atlanta and Dekalb County and the Atlanta Police Foundation are attempting to build a police training compound. Next door, in Intrenchment Creek Park, a scandalous land-swap deal will give public lands to Blackhall Studios, who hopes to expand their nearby soundstage complex into the biggest such facility on earth.
This forest forms an essential link in the urban wildlife corridor, which these developments will destroy. If the developments go forward, the entire metropolitan area, which is currently insulated from the worst consequences of ongoing climate collapse, will experience worse floods, higher temperatures, and smog-filled afternoons just as the world enters a century of climate crises and ecological collapse.
The area where the Police Foundation hopes to build their training compound is also the site of the Old Atlanta Prison Farm. In the 19th century, slaves worked this land after it was taken from the Muscogee (Creek) people, who call the area Weelaunee.
During Reconstruction, the land briefly operated as a dairy works; afterwards, it was turned into a prison camp where prisoners were forced to till fields and rear animals in dehumanizing conditions. Some were even lynched. Paving this land over with new carceral infrastructure perpetuates a historical continuum of dispossession and abuse.
Opponents of these plans regard the police training facility—dubbed “Cop City”—and the Blackhall development as interrelated aspects of the same repressive restructuring of Atlanta. In short, the Blackhall development will exacerbate economic disparities and ecological collapse, while Cop City will equip the police to preserve them.
The movement opposing these developments, mobilizing around the watchwords Defend the Forest and Stop Cop City, has passed through several phases of experimentation, using a wide array of tactics and strategies to keep pace with the course of events.
It represents an important effort to revitalize eco-defense and police abolition strategies in the wake of the George Floyd Rebellion. ……………..