DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. – Calls to stop work on a planned public safety training facility in DeKalb County will echo across metro Atlanta college campuses Monday afternoon.
Students from more than half a dozen colleges around the area, including Emory University, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, and more are taking part in a protest against the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
Walkouts and protests happened throughout the afternoon as students will demand Atlanta officials cancel the lease and drop ties with the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Students at Emory University handed out free “stop cop city” T-shirts, held picket signs, and shouted demands for the university’s president, who is a member of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, which has financially backed the center.
“President Fenves, step down from the ACP and condemn the development of cop city,” one of several student organizers, Jaanaki Radhakrishnan, said.
Dozens of protesters, including Radhakrishnan took over the campus’ quad on Monday afternoon. Radhakrishnan says she’s spreading several messages, one of them being reaction to autopsies showing a facility protester was shot nearly sixty times.
The protests come less than a week after the release of the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s autopsy report of the death of 26-year-old activist Manuel Esteban Paez Teran.
Teran, who went by “Tortuguita” and used they/them pronouns, was shot and killed by police on Jan. 18 as officers raided campgrounds occupied by environmental demonstrators who had allegedly been camping out for months to protest the development of the training center, dubbed “Cop City” by critics.
Georgia State Patrol troopers claim that Teran fired the first shot during the incident, which led officers to respond with gunfire. However, the report states that Teran did not have gunpowder residue on their hands.
The report stated Teran had at least 57 gunshot wounds in their body, including the hands, torso, legs and head.
“I think the question becomes whether 57 bullets is ever justified,” Radhakrishnan said.
An independent autopsy from the family found that Teran’s hands were raised during the fatal shooting. The DeKalb County autopsy stated, however, “there are too many variables with respect to movement of the decedent and the shooters to draw definitive conclusions concerning Mr. Teran’s body position.”
Protestors say that Atlanta-area universities have been supporters of the development through research partnerships with the Atlanta Police Foundation and through an organization known as the Atlanta Committee for Progress.
“Atlanta’s universities are complicit in APF’s violence and corruption. Many of the foundations that fund APF also donate to the universities,” an anonymous Georgia Institute of Technology taking part in the “Stop Cop City” protests said in a statement. “We are sending a message to all of these complicit actors that your support of the Weelaunee People’s Park destruction, increased militarization of police, and brutalization of protesters is shameful and will not go unheard.”
What is the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center?
The Atlanta Police Foundation, the major force behind the project, officially calls it the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, but for those who oppose it, it is called “Cop City.”
According to the foundation, the city of Atlanta has owned a 380-acre tract of land since 1918 when it purchased it from DeKalb County for the purpose of building a prison farm for non-violent offenders. Prison buildings would be built, farmland would be plowed, and pasture land cleared. It remained in use until 1995.
Starting around the mid-1990s, the city began using the land for portions of their training, even housing temporary facilities until the current Public Safety Training Center was completed. The foundation says various portions of the land, to this day, continue to be used by police and firefighters training in weapons, fire fighting, and explosives detection.
A section of the land was also used as a burial site for animals from the Atlanta Zoo at one point, the foundation says. The current Metro Regional Youth Detention Center sits adjacent to the land on the south side off Constitution Road.
While there have been rumors possible human remains or artifacts on the land, the foundation points to an archeological and historic preservation study that found no trace.
The old prison farm land was not at the top of the list when the Atlanta Police Foundations was asked by the Atlanta Police Department and then-Mayor Shirley Franklin to begin outlining what a future training facility should look like. It was only when foundation members began to identify the various training needs, did the site emerge as a viable location.
One of the biggest challenges was a versatile and dynamic location able to change and grow with the department’s needs for the next half-century. Initially, designers were looking at developing 150 acres, but the Atlanta City Council asked them to scale it back to 85 acres. That has become the current plan.
The training center would include a shooting range, classrooms, a mock village, an emergency vehicle driving course, stables for police horses, and a “burn building” for firefighters to practice putting out fires.