Two weeks ago, Scalawag launched our inaugural "Week of Writing," a series intended to support the #StopCopCity movement by igniting the power of radical Southern alternative media platforms. With it, we amplified the narratives elevated by the organizers actively engaged in the struggle to defend the Weelaunee Forest.
This radical strategy is a direct strike against the City of Atlanta's most powerful tool: their control of Atlanta's Big Media complex. Tasked with ensuring that the city's global image remains unblemished, capitalist media and tech industry titans have long served as major corporate anchor institutions for Atlanta's growth and expansion. Cop City is no different.
How do we Atlantans let go of fear of the "race massacre"—or the idea of a non-cosmopolitan Black Mecca and a white supremacist City Too Busy to Hate—inhibiting the long overdue rebellion married to no cause?
Atlanta's Big Media giants and its larger entertainment industrial complex command a substantial sphere of influence in the city's cultural, political, and economic life. Their role as key stakeholders on the boards and committees of major philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, as career pipelines for university students trained in neoliberal public affairs and capitalist economic development practices, in their funding support for the city's major festivals and other cultural events, and in the marching orders they direct at the mayor and council regarding public safety via their positions on the Atlanta Police Foundation and the Atlanta Committee for Progress is an essential suture that binds partners across sectors to the regime's development goals.
Narrative control is war strategy. At present, Southern alternative media outlets are engaged in a struggle against partners as powerful as Cox Media, Turner Broadcasting, Warner Bros., CNN, and the rest of the film, media, sports, and music industry interests that compose Atlanta's entertainment industrial complex. The rebels whose role in battle is to circulate the stories that convey the grave stakes of Cop City—and inventions that serve as infrastructures for the expansion of the violent police state—have in many ways taken on comparable risks to those on the ground at direct actions.
The impact of last Monday's "Pack City Hall" event demonstrates the power of the combined force of these arms of the movement at work as members of the progressive, radical, and revolutionary press stood with Atlanta's organizers and citizens. Our counter-narrative reporting efforts have been mobilized in a battle against the state's repression of democratic processes in the intimate commons of the neighborhood, issue-based advocacy spaces, and in the realm of formal civic participation. In the face of such state-corporate repression, the City Hall public comment record and alternative media platforms have opened vital avenues for capturing explicitly anti-state critiques from the masses and circulating them against the airbrushed state-media narrative. In the face of a city council full of new faces, it is the archives of legacy alt-media publications and reporters that have covered the long struggle against Atlanta's Beltline-era development agenda. For those of us who have provided media coverage and given public comment during the Peachtree-Pine closure vote, at rallies to #RedLightTheGulch and told the everyday stories of the residents and university students who held down occupations during the Occupy Atlanta and #TentCityATL struggles, Cop City is yet another abolitionist struggle on the Gate City front for which such media support is indispensable.
The State's narrative machine sought to strike back against the momentum of Monday's action when Mayor Dickens himself published this op-ed for the city's most widely circulated outlet, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The AJC, which is owned by the Cox Media Group, functions in the war on the Cop City narrative in many ways that are reminiscent of its role in the making of the New South city itself. It was the dueling predecessors of its present iteration, the Atlanta Constitution and The Atlanta Journal, that were central to the antiblack media hysteria that sparked the 1906 Race Massacre.
The simultaneity of the increased criminalization of homelessness and the Peachtree-Pine closure engendered the public emergence of Cop City. It's emblematic of Atlanta's cycle of state abandonment that exploits and reproduces the homeless population.
The role of Big Media in circulating state narratives that stimulate antiblack hysteria around rising urban crime rates and the "terrorist" threats forest defenders pose to the existing and emerging order owe their origin to the technologies of "safety" patented at the dawn of the 20th century—the same ones that secured urban futurities against the threat of post-emancipation black migration in the afterlife of the plantocracy.
The Southern war reporter Ida B. Wells-Barnett reminds us throughout her work on lynching laws that the legal code of law and order—including the zoning code, rules of civic decorum, threats of regional secession, and cultures of exclusion—are all reforms intended to preserve capital and secure "progress," absent the tarnished global representation of a city that lacks the capacity to control the most insurgent members of its constituency. Put differently; there is no advancement of the technologies of state repression without (racial) hysteria about the end or absence of order. As the revolutionary psychiatrist Frantz Fanon reminds us, blackness—which is symbolically represented as a biological threat to futurity—means that the only way to sell the idea of a modern corporate-capitalist city is to present it as equally capable of attracting and securing capital, policing deviance, and extinguishing even the possibility of insurgent, anarchic activities.
Dickens' plea for the preservation of the Cop City project as the engine guiding the city toward the "North Star" of a restored sense of public safety echoes Representative John Lewis' final "marching orders" in its attempt to redeem the soul of the City, via branding a police training paradise as a technology of care. The mayor's commentary, like the city's larger public engagement campaign to recruit more local support for its carceral vision, reveals that what is at stake here is beyond competing ideas about the future of Atlanta; Cop City is a matter of whether the future of capital or the people is centered in all of these plans for an equitable future.
Atlanta's legacy abolitionists, however, have long known that the city's campaign for a just and equitable future has only served as a politically destabilizing deterrent, one that fractured a radical movement that coalesced around a call for the end of APD and the countless other law enforcement agencies that occupy the city. A policy in favor of equitable investment in the people has been compromised and forced to always accept the equity recommendation and metric as the state's only concession. The resources fought for are often insufficient and late upon arrival. This is especially true in the wake of an uprising. The Dickens administration's support for the Cop City regime cannot be separated from the 2020 compromise between corporate power and The City's endeavor to deliver another black mayor in exchange for that mayor's commitment to a doctrine of law and order. The liberal city had to prove itself complicit with the preservation of the Republic, through the restoration of hospitable conditions for capital.
The City's continued insistence on building Cop City by any means necessary confers what we have known since the original renderings and proposed development plan began to circulate: the 2020 uprisings struck fear in the heart of the violent state. In signaling the absence or deterioration of order, they forced the state's use of force beyond the limits of the preexisting legal code, as uprising can only be read as an act of aggression. Last Monday night's action matters not only in terms of narrative control or in its proof of the capacity of movements to inspire civil disobedience, but also because it created a space for the forging of a consensus: We have packed the house far too many times, for far too many failed campaigns against mega-developments to meet the force of state violence with the same tactics.
A few words from Scalawag Editor-at-Large Da'Shaun L. Harrison on the Pack City Hall event:
On Monday, May 15, Atlanta residents took to City Hall in record numbers to oppose an additional $31 million from the city to fund the urban police training-to-murder facility known as Cop City. A total of 288 people signed up for public comment to the city council, with over 100 being denied the opportunity to sign up at all. I was one of the 288. Clocking in at 195, it wasn't until after 8 p.m. that I got the opportunity to speak in front of the council. I had been at City Hall since 12:30 p.m. When I arrived, I stood outside amid a crowd of about 75 people who decided to rally in front of City Hall while the rest of us signed up to speak—the line to do so extended into the street. Once inside, I was met by a chorus of fellow Atlanta residents chanting, "Stop Cop City!" and "Vive Tortuguita!"
Justice-impacted organizers know well the stakes of expanded policing. In this interview, Julian Rose talks with longtime organizer Bridgette Simpson about how Atlanta's persistent carcerality creates state enemies by criminalizing resistance.
I have been a resident of Atlanta for a decade, I have organized here for equally as long, and I had never seen such a large turnout for a "Pack City Hall" event—an organizing tactic we've used often over the years in our struggles against police murder, gentrification, and more. This fact left me with a lot of feelings, the most important of them being excitement. I was elated that so many people chose to take off of work, leave their children, and miss school to make a collective statement that we are against this militarized police training facility. For the next seven hours, I would listen to person after person—of varying gender, sexuality, racial, and class positions—speak with conviction and clarity about their reasons for opposing Cop City. Many even took the opportunity to imagine out loud where the proposed $31 million could be allocated instead: toward ending poverty in the city, ending homelessness, prioritizing education, and more.
All day, we witnessed what community in practice can look like. As many of us were at City Hall for over eight hours, several people ordered food and water to make sure as many people as possible were fed; some people who left early offered to pick up neighbors' children before heading home; many people wore masks—both to protect themselves and as a consideration of the others with whom they shared space.
Perhaps most importantly, when faced with possible arrest—following Council President Shipman's attempt to sic police on those of us in the main chambers for applauding speakers, just an hour before I spoke—we banded together and resisted. And while we practiced community in real-time, the council members put on a display that (should have) clarified for anyone not already clear that they cannot be built and leveled with. While Shipman dismissively thanked speakers after they were finished (which he claims was an attempt to "keep things moving"), many of the others on the council played on their phones, leaned back in their seats, talked to each other while we, their constituents, talked to them, only begrudgingly and snarkily engaging when called upon. And that is just the council members who chose to show up.
By the time it was my turn to speak, I'd seen enough, and everything had already been said. So I left them with what I'll leave you with:
I arrived in this city 10 years ago to attend Morehouse College. I've been an organizer in this city for just as long. I have also been homeless in this city. I've witnessed the violent force of police and a police state when leveraged against black unhoused flesh.
I've stood at this very podium before, working alongside AUCShutItDown, Atlanta Black Students United, ATLisReady, #ItsBiggerThanYou, RiseUp GA, Housing Justice League, Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, Southerners on New Ground, and so many more organizations this council has actively worked against. Talking to your predecessors Through the closing of Peachtree-Pine, through the overturn of Turner Field Stadium, the Gulch, the Beltline, and so much more. I've lived through Kasim's regime, I've lived through Keisha's regime, and now Andre's regime. But just as there was no guarantee that I'd survive then, there is certainly no guarantee I'll survive now. But you all have made it clear that my survival is not, has not, and will never be of your concern. So I'm not here to beg you for anything, or ask you to do anything. I'm here just so you know that I see you. We see you.
You all have sat here and talked to each other, played on your phones, refused to even look most of us in the eye. If you're tired after hearing over 200 of your constituents tell you about what we do and do not want, imagine exactly how tired we are.
I don't believe in y'all's ability to show up; I do believe in mine and ours. And we will continue to show up. even when those of you sitting here are out of a job.
It is important that this nuance is offered here: while every single person who spoke Monday did oppose Cop City, there were also a number of people who made it a point to name that they were "not anti-police" or assert that they are "proud of [their] relatives" who are police officers. More than a couple of times, we heard anti-Cop City sentiments that were prefaced by a defense of police. This forced me to contend with one thing: a part of the reason for the overwhelming turnout, in comparison to many other efforts to pack city hall, is that Cop City threatens "all life" while police murder of black people or the foreclosure of black neighborhoods only fastens the grip death has on black non-life. This is an issue because, if left unchallenged, it will only set the conditions for another iteration of Cop City. We must vehemently oppose the police. All things considered, Monday was a very clear defense of the forest, and a less searing but substantial defense of black people. It was a beautifully clarifying example of the benefits and limitations of community.
Contribute to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund to support the legal defense of Forest Defenders facing domestic terrorism charges and learn more about the ongoing fight to #StopCopCity and Defend the Atlanta Forest.
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