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As the Stop Cop City battle continues, organizers seeking a vote on the $90 million police and fire training facility in Atlanta accused the city’s mayor of making “misleading” claims on Tuesday.
A plan approved by city officials in 2021 to build an 85-acre public safety campus faces fierce opposition. Organizers have collected over 116,000 signatures from local residents in an effort to bring the issue to a vote. If successful, it would cancel the city’s contract with the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Meanwhile, Atlanta Mayor Dickens has called the petition “invalid,” claiming voters can’t override a signed contract.
The petition currently hangs in limbo after the city filed litigation, bringing the issue to a temporary halt.
Despite previously claiming the signature-gathering process was invalid, Mayor Dickens assured Senator Warnock he would “err on the side of ensuring that Atlanta voters who desire to bring this issue to a vote will have that opportunity.”
Responding to Mayor Dickens’ letter, the Cop City Vote Coalition claimed the mayor was spreading misinformation.
“We could address the inaccuracies, misinformation, and incoherence of this letter— and we did— but the bottom line: we’re not falling for it,” said Mary Hooks, Tactical Lead for the Cop City Vote Coalition.
Creating an annotated version of the mayor’s letter, the coalition responds to each point line by line. On the top of the annotated letter, the coalition gives the mayor a grade of F.
A 2-year battle to stop Cop City
City officials claim the public safety training facility would help hire and retain more officers and address violent crime. Meanwhile, opponents say it would further criminalize Black people and create an environmental hazard in a low-income community.
The political struggle has led to the police killing of an unarmed forest defender in January and the arrests of dozens of activists who face RICO charges from the state in a move that has been heavily criticized as undemocratic.
City officials’ decision to refuse to count the over 116,000 signatures collected by organizers has led to even more scrutiny and public pressure.
On Sept. 15, U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock sent a letter to Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens raising concerns and questions about the city’s method of verifying signatures.
“I urge the City to err on the side of giving people the ability to express their views, including by establishing clear and transparent deadlines regarding timelines and requirements and by using any discretion available to the City under the law to accept and count all lawfully collected signatures,” Sen. Warnock wrote.
He raised questions about the process for verifying signatures, the method for contacting voters if a signature doesn’t match, and how the city will gather feedback from local groups about the process.
Atlanta Mayor defends Cop City
In his response to Sen. Warnock’s question, Mayor Dickens defended his actions and pledged to support police and police reform at the same time. The Cop City Vote Coalition’s annotations of the mayor’s response shows the deep divide between city leaders and residents on the ground.
“Last year, 171 people were murdered in the city of Atlanta,” the mayor wrote, beginning his letter with a defense of police. One annotation points out that “10 have died in the ATL jail this year.” The Fulton County Jail has grown increasingly deadly in reason years, a fact the mayor excluded from his letter.
“At the same time, we witnessed the murder of George Floyd, and far too many others, and the country once again grappled with the harsh truth that too many people who looked like us were being killed by people sworn to protect us,” the mayor wrote.
Meanwhile, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr cited the murder of Floyd as the beginning of a criminal movement when he placed RICO charges on ‘Stop Cop City’ protesters at the beginning of Sept.
Signature verification or voter suppression?
Addressing the petition, Mayor Dickens denied that his efforts to stop the counting of signatures was voter suppression.
“This is not an election. Not yet. People are not and have not been asked to vote,” he wrote.
The Cop City Vote Coalition pointed out, however, that it is “First Amendment-protected political activity.”
The mayor went on to deny that his office was conducting “signature-matching” in reviewing the petition. In recent years, Republican-led states have used signature-matching to invalid any votes in which a signature appears even slightly different from other government documents.
Mayor Dickens said the city takes it role in ensuring the right to vote “seriously.” Meanwhile, the annotation from Cop City Vote Coalition notes that a federal judge overseeing the litigation blasted the city’s actions.
U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen claimed the city moved the goalposts for the petition campaign and “directly contributed” to confusion over the issue.
City refuses to count signatures
Organizers say they needed nearly 59,000 signatures to meet the threshold to bring the issue to a vote. They gathered nearly twice that amount in an effort to give voters the opportunity to stop Cop City.
“Gathering signatures from 15% of registered Atlanta voters in 60 days is the mandated
threshold, and if that is met, then this question should and will be put to vote,” Mayor Dickens wrote in his letter. “People have spoken, but we have a duty to review these petitions and ensure that it is Atlantans who are speaking for Atlanta.
More than two weeks after receiving the signatures, the city has still not begun the process of counting them.
“The Mayor says he doesn’t believe we have the required number of petitions. OK. Get out of the way, withdraw your unnecessary and expensive legal appeal, and start counting,” Cop City Vote Coalition stated. “We’ll bet your political career that we’ve got the numbers.”