Addressing a smorgasbord of causes ranging from police abolition over gender justice to climate justice, over 100 protestors marched from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan to JPMorgan Chase headquarters at 270 Park Ave on March 9.
Demonstrators demanded the banking giant sever its ties with the non-profit Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) as well as police foundations nationwide.
In a letter addressed to David Miree, activists argued Chase’s financial ties with the APF violated the bank’s mission statement for diversity, equity and inclusion. They further argued that the allegiance with law enforcement contradicted the bank’s commitment to spend $30 billion for the advancement of economic growth and opportunity for Black, Hispanic and Latino communities.
At heart is a 2021 ground lease agreement between the Atlanta City Council and the APF. The agreement grants APF to build a public safety training campus on 85 acres in the South River Forest, also known as Weelaunee Forest, southeast of Atlanta. The $90 million dollar project – backed by $60 million in corporate funding and $30 million in taxpayer money- has drawn the ire of environmental and civil rights groups alike.
For opponents of the project, dubbed “cop city,” the concerns are multifold. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, argue the construction of the training center would destroy forested land, causing havoc on the ecological system and pollute the headwaters of the South River,
Civil rights groups believe the project is in response to the anti-police protests in 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd and view the training facility as a tool to “militarize” law enforcement and intimidate black and brown communities.
On their website, the APF says the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which is also going to provide training for the Atlanta Fire Rescue and E911, will improve morale, retention, and training, and embrace police reform.
Similar protests under the banner of “Stop Cop City” happened in cities across the country and came on the heel of escalating violence in Atlanta.
For months, “forest defenders” have been camping out in the forest, trying to stop the construction.
On Jan.18, 2023, officers shot and killed non-binary environmentalist 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, aka Tortuguita, when they wanted to clear the forest encampment. The circumstances leading to the shooting death of Tortuguita remain unclear. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said that Tortuguita did not follow orders and allegedly shot a state trooper first, but activists claim it was a case of “friendly fire.”
“Tortuguita was murdered by a cop. Tortuguita themselves were non-binary and queer”, Hennessy, a climate justice organizer with Sixth Street Community Center, said. “It would be remiss of me not to discuss the intersectional nature of all of this. Climate justice is the liberation of queer and trans people. Climate justice is racial justice.”
Last Sunday, authorities say, activists threw Molotov cocktails and rocks and set heavy equipment at a construction site on fire. The police detained 35 people and charged 23 with domestic terrorism.
Joanna Oltman Smith from Brooklyn, who attended the protest in New York City, described the future police training facility as an “urban warfare training facility.”
“I’m quite upset by what I’m seeing,” Oltman Smith said. “I’m seeing people out there in peaceful protest being charged with domestic terrorism, being threatened on Rico charges. When really what should be happening is an appreciation for people standing up for essential ecosystems that are protecting the city of Atlanta from the ravages of climate change.”