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With a possible vote on Atlanta’s proposed ‘Cop City’ still in doubt, the Georgia NAACP president is urging ATL Mayor Andre Dickens to listen to the community’s opposition or face legal action.
In an interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Georgia NAACP President Gerald Griggs, an Atlanta attorney, said he’d hate for history to show he sued Black officials in the chocolate city. However, Griggs made it clear that all options remain on the table if voters don’t get to weigh in on the proposed $90 million public safety training facility.
“I’m going to tell you the same thing I told the mayor. As a representative of the oldest civil rights organization in this state, we don’t want more militarized police to be terrorizing African American communities,” Griggs told The Black Wall Street Times near the end of October.
“We have three methods of changing people’s minds. One is advocacy. The other is litigation, and the other is legislation. All three are on the table.”
Griggs’ message to Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens comes after years of opposition to the proposed public safety training facility.
Public safety or police militarization?
Months of protests, sometimes violent, have catapulted the issue to national awareness.
The heavy-handed response from local and state law enforcement has resulted in felony and even RICO charges against activists. The police killing of unarmed forest defender Miguel Tehran “Tortuguita” in January also inflamed tensions.
From the inception of ‘Cop City’, Georgia NAACP President Griggs said destroying 85 acres of the South River Forest to build ‘a large-scale police and fire training facility drew opposition.
Former ATL Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms first began working with the Atlanta Police Foundation on funding the proposal. The current administration of Mayor Dickens continued the agreement.
“We had just come out of the 2020 freedom summer, as I call it,” Georgia NAACP President Griggs said, referencing George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rashard Brooks and other victims of police violence.
“And so the refrain of the community was police accountability. Some kind of way the politicians turned that into more training. They weren’t calling for more training. They were calling for police accountability. Which means holding police officers accountable when they violate the public trust through terminations and prosecutions,” Griggs said.
Mayor accused of obstructing Cop City vote process
Street protests have morphed into a movement for a public vote, and Mayor Dickens has been accused of trying to sabotage the democratic process.
Over 116,000 residents signed a petition to allow for a public vote on the contract for ‘Cop City.’ The city responded by filing litigation to narrow signature eligibility. Even after the signatures were turned in, the city clerk at first refused to verify them.
Ultimately, officials in the city that gave birth to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have been accused of utilizing voter suppression tactics when verifying signatures. The controversy reached the ears of U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).
“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 to Mayor Dickens in September.
Responding to the Senator, Mayor Dickens defended his support for the proposed training facility, citing the city’s murder rate.
“Last year, 171 people were murdered in the city of Atlanta,” the mayor wrote back, promising to give residents a voice.
NAACP urges Mayor to allow public vote on Cop City
The position of the NAACP, according to President Griggs, has been from the beginning that it’s the wrong place and the wrong priority for the city.
While Mayor Dickens believes the training center is in the best interest of public safety, Griggs says the majority of Black residents disagree.
“[Black residents] are more focused on law enforcement not killing individuals than they are in training law enforcement. And so what needs to happen at this point is a public vote so we can see that there’s actually more opposition,” Griggs told The Black Wall Street Times.
Notably, some of the most high profile police killings involved officers who had decades of experience.
In Minnesota, Kim Potter had 26 years of police training before she “accidentally” used a gun instead of a taser on unarmed Daunte Wright. Wright died at 20 years old, and Potter was sentenced to two years in prison.
Griggs said the city of Atlanta must make police accountability a priority before moving on to other issues.
“And I think once the city focuses on that then we can have a conversation about a training facility somewhere else that doesn’t damage all that green space,” Griggs said. “That’s in an area that’s in incorporated city of Atlanta, where the voters have a say on what’s done on that property. Not in unincorporated Dekalb county, where there’s no accountability.”
Mayor’s Office releases statement
It remains unclear when or if a public vote on the $90 million proposed public safety training center will take place. Meanwhile, construction crews have already broken ground on the site, facing resistance from activists and concerned residents.
A vote on ‘Cop City’ could potentially take place during the March 2024 presidential primary, but that would require the city of Atlanta to first verify the 116,000 signatures and place the issue on the ballot.
If the city tries to subvert the will of the people, Griggs said, “you’ll hear from the LDF (NAACP Legal Defense Fund), you’ll hear from the Office of General Council, and ultimately, you’ll hear from all of our lawyers.”
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to Mayor Dickens’ office for a response to the NAACP warning on ‘Cop City’.
A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office sent the following statement:
“Our Public Safety personnel need modern, quality training programs and facilities throughout their careers—from their first day in the academy to routine training thereafter. This includes the most progressive training curriculum in the nation which includes learning and practicing de-escalation skills, mental health training, anti-bias training and building relationships with residents and strengthening community trust. That is what the Public Safety Training Center is about.”Spokesperson, Atlanta Mayor’s Office
On November 13, organizers have planned a non-violent march on the construction site for the proposed public safety training facility. The goal is to bring 1,000 people to the site to occupy it for a day.
A host of screenings and events aimed at Black residents will also take place across the city in the coming weeks.
Many have criticized the suppression from law enforcement as undemocratic. It appears organizers are deploying every possible tactic to convince the community to oppose the facility.
“You can’t train your way out of police violence. What you can do is hold the individuals accountable in a courtroom for things that are against the laws of this state,” Griggs said.
Dr. Martin Luther King Sr., the father of the civil rights legend, was once a president for the Atlanta NAACP branch. Griggs hopes the city moves in the direction of his legacy.
“The Atlanta NAACP is telling the city of Atlanta get on the right side of civil rights. Otherwise, you’re gonna get on the wrong side of us.”
View the full interview with Georgia NAACP President Gerald Griggs below: