May 20, 2021
From It's Going Down
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photo via: @fukmarykill

Opposition in so-called Atlanta, Georgia has been building against a development plan which would level hundreds of acres of forest currently owned by DeKalb County to make way for a massive police training facility (“a world class training campus”) and expand an existing film studio complex.

According to Defend the Atlanta Forest, one of the groups opposing the projects, this will mean the destruction of vital green space:

Atlanta is a city in a forest. We have the highest percentage of tree canopy of any major metropolitan area in America. Our canopy is the main factor in ensuring Atlanta’s resiliency in the face of climate change. The forest in Southeast Atlanta is home to wetlands that filter rainwater and prevent flooding. It is also one of the last breeding grounds for many amphibians in the region, as well as an important migration site for wading birds.

The history of this particular land is deeply scarred. In the 1800s shortly after the land was stolen from Muscogee Creek peoples, it was used as a plantation. In the early 1900s, a prison farm [known as the ‘Old Atlanta Prison Farm’] was opened where inmates were forced to perform unpaid agricultural labor, marking the rebranding of slavery into for profit prison labor. The Atlanta Police Department currently uses this hallowed ground as a firing range.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, the Atlanta police hope to redevelop the area once occupied by the Atlanta Prison Farm, and create a massive training facility for law enforcement:

Atlanta’s proposed Public Safety Training Center will be located across 150 acres of the old Atlanta Prison Farm, which is city-owned and located east of the city in unincorporated DeKalb County. Officials say the space will provide recruiting, training, mid-career education, and practice with new technology and equipment for police and fire department personnel…The renderings show the campus will house a mock city for police, fire and rescue teams to perform real world training. A large amount of land will be converted into an emergency vehicle operations course for fire and police driving training as well.

Via: Save the Old Atlanta Prison Farm

According to the mayor of Atlanta, the massive complex would “raise morale” among officers and hopefully bring more recruits into the department at a time when many are leaving the force and the pandemic has been linked to a rise in specifically violent crime. However groups like Defend the Atlanta Forest contend that a new police training facility is unwanted, especially at a time when calls are growing for police to be heavily defunded, demilitarized, and outright abolished.

But the police are not the only ones eyeing expansion, Blackhall Studios, recently sold to the Commonwealth Group in Los Angeles, CA , is a large movie studio behind such blockbuster names as Venom and Jumanji, is also looking to turn the forest into another kind of green. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote:

Blackhall Studios, a 150-acre complex about 10 minutes south of downtown, would add 538,000 square feet of sound stages, 200,000 square feet of offices, 420,000 square feet for warehousing and 22,000 square feet of catering space, according to a filing made through the state’s Development of Regional Impact (DRI) program. DRIs are filed when a project’s size is likely to impact the infrastructure of neighboring communities…The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners in October voted to approve a land swap with Blackhall Studios as part of the planned expansion. The county would give the approximately 40 acres of mostly wooded land along the South River Trail and in return Blackhall Studios would give the county about 53 nearby acres.

Defend the Atlanta Forest countered that such development would have lasting negative impacts on both the land, the ecology, and accelerate gentrification:

Intrenchment Creek is an existing public park adjacent to the Prison Farm. Dekalb County seeks to swap this land with Blackhall Studios, a major film production company. Blackhall wants to clear cut 170 acres of forest to develop into an airport and erect the largest sound stage in America. This project would cement Atlanta as the new Hollywood, making the cost of living in our city outrageous.

Opposition to the construction projects has been building over the last several years, with various groups organizing grassroots campaigns to block the bulldozers in court or advocating for the land to be turned into a public park in order to preserve green space and biodiversity – however in recent weeks the campaign has taken on a new public dimension.

On May 15th, over 200 people gathered for a BBQ and info-night presentation on the threat to the forest and the broader campaign to defend it. Currently there is talk of a week of action and ongoing organizing in opposition to the proposed projects.

Community “Info-Night” About Defense Campaign Source: Stop the Swap

Opponents of the “cop city” have also organized a continuous stream of educational events on the land as well as pressure campaigns aimed at pushing county commissioners and investors to drop the project.

Then on May 17th, according to a post claiming responsibility, people engaged in targeted sabotage against several machines being used in construction within the forest. Posted to Abolition Media Worldwide, the communique stated:

This is a story about a couple of queers who gathered last night in Intrenchment Creek Park to reject destruction in the name of profit and power and to destroy the machinery of the nefarious polities that have defiled the Atlanta Forest. We have deep respect and regard for acknowledging that this is Muskogee land and was the site of horrific abuses, of displacement, chattel slavery, and prison slavery.

They set out meandering through the forest, touching undergrowth, brush, breathing the cleanest air in the city, feeling the wetland take them in as their heels sunk beneath them. After a short walk, they reached an artificial break in the embrace of the forest. They found themselves upon the intrepid mound of dirt, a site of destruction, a jarring crack in the rythym of the forest. In the distance, 7 unguarded machines were illuminated by the moonlight. They knew what they had to do.

As hammers met windows and knives cut tubing, the undoing of the mechanical monsters that had violated the forest begun. No tool of the evildoers went unharmed. Many antagonistic and proclamatory messages were left by the hissing sound of rattling cans. In little time, the moon was far from the only light that shone over the mound of dirt left by the machines’ destruction. The splash of gasoline as an extension of the blood that fuels the burning fire in their hearts became alight with the rage that they felt. By the time the fire department took notice, the deed was done and the culprits had already dissipated into the night like the curling black smoke that drifted into the sky. It was upon unusable machines that the fires were extinguished. Fires are temporary and can be undone. The connection that those who live in a forest, who breathe its air, and who drink water filtered in its wetlands is not so easily broken.

We hope that in telling our story, we can call you to our side in defending the Atlanta Forest, and inspire others to be dangerous towards everything that wages war on our bodies, on the earth, and on our very lives.

We are outraged by the destruction already done to the Atlanta forest by Blackhall Studios and the so-called governments that gave them permission.

We will not allow any further destruction; we will not allow the so-called City of Atlanta to build a horrific 300-acre training facility for police that they will call the “Institute For Social Justice.”

We will not abide the destruction of the Old Atlanta Prison farm, further erasing history and concealing the connection and transition between chattel slavery and modern prison slavery.

We condemn the swapping of the 250 acres of beautiful forest that Blackhall Studios destroyed when they thought they could develop the wetland.

We condemn Blackhall Studios’ hasty cover-up: the proposed “Michelle Obama Park” that will sit on the mound of dirt they left in their wake. We will not allow them to destroy any more forest for the building of a massive soundstage.

We don’t need a soundstage for entertainment. Everything we need is already there.

We don’t need police training facilties. We demand an end to policing.

To the developers, governments, contractors, corporations, and politicians that perpetrated the heinous deforestation of the part of the forest along “Bouldercrest Road,” there’s something you should know.

Any further attempts at destroying the Atlanta Forest will be met with similar response. This forest was here long before us, and it will be here long after.

We’ll see to that.

It seems that the struggle to defend the Atlanta forest is just getting started. For more information and to see how to plug into local organizing, go here.

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Source: Itsgoingdown.org