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Controversy surrounding the construction of 'Cop City' in Georgia won't let up

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In Atlanta, a new police training facility is being built on 85 acres of wooded land. Protesters have long railed against the plan. More than 60 people have been arrested this year during protests. Some have been violent. And some protesters are now charged with racketeering. Some are also facing domestic terrorism and money laundering charges. Atlanta's mayor and Georgia's governor still support the training facility, and a petition to put the training center's funding on the ballot is stalled in court.

We're joined now by Chamian Cruz of WABE in Atlanta, who's been following this story. So what exactly do the protesters want, and why?

CHAMIAN CRUZ, BYLINE: Well, A, for more than two years now, protesters - and that includes environmentalists and anti-police groups - they've been saying that they fear the state-of-the-art facility will further militarize police from around the country who come to train here. And they say that construction is going to exacerbate environmental damage in this low-income, majority-Black area. So while you have some groups who say that the facility should just be built somewhere else where it isn't in people's backyards and destroying valuable green space in the community, you also have some people who don't want this facility to be built at all.

And protests have only intensified, and they gained national attention after state troopers shot and killed a protester at the site in January. And then recently, a special prosecutor announced that he would not be bringing charges against those officers involved. He said that he found their use of deadly force was objectively reasonable. And this comes, as you said earlier, while dozens of protesters are facing racketeering and domestic terrorism charges. So protesters have also been calling on those to be dropped.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and despite all this, the mayor of Atlanta, the governor of Georgia, they've still stood behind the project. Why is that?

CRUZ: City officials say the training center is needed to improve things like de-escalation training, to boost morale and to recruit and retain more officers. The Atlanta Police Department is still about 500 officers short. And so, quite frankly, they say that they are simply spending too much money right now having to rent other facilities or that they're training in parking lots of old shopping centers or abandoned schools with mold and other problems. The city also already owns this land where the center is being built, and once it's completed, it's supposed to have, like, walking trails for the community and a place for them to keep their horses and canines, as well as a mock city where officers can train on how to conduct raids, which is why protesters call this project Cop City.

Just last week, protesters set several cement trucks on fire owned by a company working on the project. But Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said that despite this type of action, the project is still on track to be completed in December of next year.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Saw that organizers delivered 116,000 signatures to City Hall to get a rare ballot measure started that would ask Atlanta voters to weigh in on whether they want the facility. Where does that stand?

CRUZ: Well, yes, they submitted the signatures to City Hall in late September, but they've just been sitting there ever since because, almost immediately, city officials refused to begin verifying them until a judge rules on whether they're even valid. So there's a court hearing scheduled for next month, where we should find out more.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Chamian Cruz with WABE. Thanks a lot.

CRUZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Chamian Cruz