On the outskirts of Atlanta, Ga., activists have been protesting the construction of a new police center — which has been dubbed Cop City by activists — in Weelaunee Forest. The protests escalated in January 2023, when an altercation ended in the death of one protestor and a state trooper being injured.
For thousands of years, the forest has been a "site of oppression and struggle," according to Defend the Atlanta Forest, the central movement protesting against Cop City. If the police center is built, that will only continue.
Keep reading for the details of the tragic shooting, to learn more about the history of Weelaunee Forest, and to understand exactly why the Atlanta forest defenders are working so hard to protect it.
The Atlanta forest shooting, during a protest of Cop City, resulted in one death.
As reported by CNN, on the morning of Jan. 19, 2023, various local law enforcement agencies went to the forest, where protestors have been camping out for months, working to prevent construction. While there, the law officers attempted to remove the protestors from the site, which the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) claims to have done in "an ongoing effort to ensure that the site of the future City of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center is safe and secure."
At around 9:00 a.m., according to the GBI press release, officers gave a protestor in a tent "verbal commands," who "did not comply and shot a Georgia State Patrol Trooper."
Other officers shot back and the man was pronounced dead on the scene. As of publication, he has yet to be identified. The trooper was taken to the hospital and received surgery.
"In the course of their latest militarized raid on the forest, police in Atlanta shot and killed a person," Defend the Atlanta Forest stated on its website, in response to the incident. "This is only the most recent of a series of violent police retaliations against the movement. The official narrative is that Cop City is necessary to make Atlanta 'safe,' but this brutal killing reveals what they mean when they use that word."
Atlanta forest defenders are working to Defend the Atlanta Forest.
Defend the Atlanta Forest, aka Defend the Forest or DTF, is a social movement, slogan, and media platform "dedicated to fighting the creeping dystopia of police militarization and ecological ruin." The movement is decentralized, with no official leadership, spokespeople, or organization status in order to retain anonymity, and is made up of various individuals and groups.
According to the movement's website, the motto “Defend the Forest” is being used to express opposition to the destruction of the South River/Weelaunee Forest, to make way for the construction of two massive complexes.
One is Cop City (official name: City of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center), a proposed police training center that will measure more than 300 acres in size, and cost over $90 million to build. "Cop City will hyper-militarize law enforcement, equipping police with a site to train for the suppression of Atlanta's diverse Black and working-class communities," according to Defend the Forest.
The other proposed complex is a new Soundstage Complex for production studio Blackhall Studios. DFT states that this has project was rebranded to Shadowbox Studios. A representative for Shadowbox Studios tells Green Matters that Shadowbox Studios is not actually involved with anything on this land.
Why are forest defenders protesting Cop City?
The protestors associated with the Defend the Forest movement are working to halt the planned construction for many reasons.
For one thing, Cop City would increase police presence and budgets in a time when so many U.S. residents have been tirelessly protesting to dismantle the police system, especially since the uprising in 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd by police.
Additionally, it would cause ecological destruction and significant deforestation on hundreds of acres of land. This deforestation would remove countless trees from Atlanta's tree canopy, therefore reducing carbon sequestration in the area, as well as destroy habitats that wild animals depend on.
"Forests are the lungs of planet Earth," Defend the Forest stated. "The destruction of forests affects all of us. So do the gentrification and police violence that the bulldozing of Weelaunee Forest would facilitate."
Not to mention, the police taking over such an area is especially unjust, Defend the Forest argues, considering the history of the land.
Here's a look into the history of the Weelaunee Forest:
As explained by Defend the Forest, thousands of years ago, the Weelaunee Forest was stewarded by the Muscogee (Creek) people, but it was stolen from them over the course of centuries "through genocide and dispossession."
In the 1600s, the English started trading in Muscogee territory; in the 1700s, they established land there, and later surrendered the land to Americans. Colonialists continued stealing the land from Muscogees, eventually leading to war over the land. Over the past two centuries, parts of the forest have been used for everything from plantations where enslaved people were forced to work to a farm where prisoners were forced to work, among other controversial uses.
In 2017, the Atlanta Police Foundation revealed plans for Cop City, which has largely been opposed by locals. In 2021, the Defund the Police movement began to gain steam, with activists protesting against the complex, and many even camping out in the forest to preclude construction.
"The forest defenders are trying to create a better world for all of us. We owe it to the people of Atlanta and to future generations everywhere to support them," Defend the Forest stated in response to January's shooting. The movement's website has a few suggestions for how you can show your support, such as donating to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund.
This article has been updated to reflect Shadowbox Studios' involvement with bulldozing the forest.