Closing Cop City
DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond declares Intrenchment Creek Park closed until further notice, despite a judicial order demanding the opposite.
I like and respect DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, and his staff. But they played a game with the press today that deserves a note before we get into this thing.
This afternoon, Thurmond announced that Intrenchment Creek Park — the construction site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center — would be closed to visitors indefinitely, citing “unknown and potentially dangerous contraptions” found by state investigators there. I asked some questions about this, because I could.
However, documentarians from the Atlanta Press Collective, a reporter from Democracy Now and a couple of concerned citizens from DeKalb County — including an associate of long years — could not. They were denied entry to this press conference today. The press conference could have easily been held in the auditorium, which would have had plenty of space to accommodate anyone who wanted to observe. At the last minute, county staff directed us into a much smaller space, which created a pretext to pick and choose which media would be allowed in the room and which would not.
I objected, and tried to escort one of the barred observers with me, but was denied.
That’s bad form, and a sign of where things are on the Cop City question.
The order itself closes down six parcels and part of Bouldercrest Road. Anyone there is subject to arrest and prosecution for criminal trespassing and any car there is subject to being towed and impounded. Thurmond said. “We know there are dangers in these properties. Law enforcement officers has found hidden traps, and other devices designed to injure, maim or cause death to adults, children and pets who may go into that area.”
Behind him were enlarged photographs of homemade spike strips. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation found them, Thurmond said.
Protests at the park have been … French.
After a concert during a “week of action,” in early March, people lit construction equipment on fire, then threw rocks and shot fireworks at responding police officers. Police arrested 23 people, some of whom were a mile away from the alleged arson, charging them with acts of domestic terrorism. One of those charged was a legal observer from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The charges probably won’t stick; a terrorism charge requires underlying felony acts that are going to be almost impossible to prove for most defendants.
Almost all those who were charged were from other states, but more than a dozen others were detained and then released when police learned they were locals, raising a question about whether police are shaping their enforcement to promote the idea of “outside agitators” disrupting things here.
That’s why I’m taking note of who was allowed into the press conference and who wasn’t. Atlanta’s political establishment is on a full court press to shape perceptions around this issue, and it shows. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens made some strategic stops in the neighborhood around Cop City earlier this week, with DeKalb commissioner Larry Johnson and Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum in plain clothes.
The standing Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee for the training center — which is required by the enabling legislation to meet once a month — canceled its meetings in January and February and also the March meeting three days ago.
Dickens subsequently announced a new 40-person task force this morning, stocked less with residents near the proposed facility and more with people who have influence in the community like Georgia’s NAACP leader Gerald Griggs, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Douglas Blackmon and Dr. Rashad Richey, a noteworthy radio personality and community leader. The new committee has people I would consider legitimate and thoughtful critics of police power. But it also doesn’t have any actual authority.
This comes on the heels of a poll released last week conducted by two Emory professors looking at Atlantans attitudes about Buckhead de-annexation, referenda, and Cop City. The public is almost evenly split, according to the poll: 48 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove. Somewhat more white residents approve (54.9-42.5), while Black residents were somewhat more likely to disapprove (47.3-43.5). It’s a close split, and most people have an opinion.
That result is terrifying to a politician. Cop City in its current form is a binary political problem, because there are no proposed alternatives. Either it gets built or it doesn’t. If it gets built, opponents will seize upon it as a reason to dump Dickens and punish anyone supporting it. If it doesn’t, proponents could try to deny Dickens re-election.
I note in passing that Cop City supporters are somewhat clustered in Buckhead, which Dickens lost by wide margins in his runoff with Felicia Moore in 2021. Those voters are often anti-incumbent political reactionaries who would have been unlikely to give Dickens his vote next round in any case. But the public safety lobby could politically weaponize any move away from Cop City as conceding to “terrorists.”
In neither case — keeping or ditching Cop City — does Dickens gain political support. It has become a political loser in either direction unless something fundamentally changes.
Enter the DNC.
Dickens administration, and Atlanta’s political establishment, has been lobbying hard for the 2024 Democratic National Convention. It is coming down to Atlanta and Chicago, with New York City as a stalking horse third. Politically, Chicago is a mess right now. Mayor Lori Lightfoot just lost reelection. The Chicago media attributes her loss as a public rebuke over Chicago’s crime problems, which is fair. She also lost the support of Chicago’s powerful school union.
This same dynamic was why I think Keisha Lance Bottoms chose not to run for re-election. She was going down in exactly the same way.
But Atlanta’s violent crime rate is actually much higher than Chicago’s. The Buckhead cityhood movement created bad optics as the city lobbied Biden for the convention. That problem appears to be done with — though one should never feel safe while the legislature is in session. The lingering question is whether Cop City protesters have a heckler’s veto over the convention bid. If demonstrators turn Atlanta into Chicago — of 1968 — images of police stomping protesters flat could damage Biden’s re-election at a critical moment in the election cycle.
I asked Thurmond if he believed the protests at Intrenchment Park threaten Atlanta’s chances of getting the 2024 convention. “I have no comment on that,” he answered, smiling.