In Atlanta, HBCU students are continuing to fight against “Cop City,” the nickname designated for the planned Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, that was approved last fall by the Atlanta Council. The “Cop City” complex would be located “less than 10 miles from the Atlanta University Center, which is home to four HBCUs,” Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Spelman College.
The $90 million, 85-acre facility “is expected to include shooting ranges, a mock city for police training and a K-9 unit kennel,” and additional police training amenities.
On Feb. 2, student organizers from the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC) held a forum which hosted Chris Smalls, Amazon Labor Union president. Smalls supported the students, stating that it “ was a powerful moment to see the students understand this moment in history and want to take action. I’m happy and proud to stand with my brothers and sisters of Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta to fight for the rights that we equally deserve.”
Spelman sent a statement to Inside Higher Ed praising students for their “address[ing] the key social issues of our time…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 released a statement “calling for peaceful protest” confirming their “‘commitment to improved policing practices and relationships with the Black community.’”
After the forum on Feb. 7, Morehouse College organized a private forum with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens to discuss the plans for the training facility. However, AUC students expressed disappointment with the event.
“Many questions were left unanswered and students departed the event feeling disappointed in the condescending manner of communication from the Mayor,” a press statement reads. “It appeared that the purpose of the Mayor and his staff was not to converse with the community about public concerns, but instead to propagate the need for an Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.”
College students all over the country have been at the forefront of social activism for centuries; but over the past decade our nation has been a witness to a “renaissance of student activism,” explains The Atlantic. This is especially true in Atlanta, the home of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) headquarters, the organization that “became the major channel of student participation in the civil rights movement” in the 1960s.
Outrage against “Cop City” has been brewing since it was proposed, stemming from both the country’s longstanding negative history with police brutality combined with its actual physical location on Weelaunee Forest on land once occupied by the Muscogee Creek Nation. It was also previously the site of a “slave labor camp and a prison farm throughout its history,” both of which create a perfect storm for racial activists and environmentalists to protest.
Tensions over this issue peaked on January 18, when 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Terán, affectionately called Tortugita by community members, was shot and killed by police while protesting on the site in a forest area with other environmental activists. Terán was shot more than a dozen times by law enforcement officials. A Georgia State patrol officer also sustained injuries from the shootout.
Morehouse Faculty Council’s Chair and political science professor Andrew Douglas is upset by the “lack of a unified response from AUC campuses,” but acknowledged that administrators are forced be more cautious and conservative in their approach, as Higher Ed reported. But Douglas noted to the outlet:
[I]f we’re ever going to do anything to get at the root causes of crime, and the sorts of hopelessness and destitution that may lead people to feel like they have no choice but to engage in what we deem criminal behavior, we’ve really got to work on some of those underlying systemic issues… I think the AUC schools as a bloc have a tremendous amount of power that, if they were to take a position on this, that would garner a lot of attention.