ATL UNTRAPPED: Stop Cop City
Familiarize yourself with one of Atlanta’s most pressing issues
On May 17th, 2020, my heart and spirit called me to write an ATL Untrapped column in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. I questioned the local hip-hop scene’s silence on a matter that was so dangerously close to home, questioned my own role in perpetuating that silence, and looking at the Atlanta community as a collective, I questioned each of our individual roles in the struggle. From 10:24 am to 12:57 pm, I feverishly typed the words that became “Should the South have something to say?” and turned it over to my editor later that afternoon.
Just eight days later, George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. In the still early days of the coronavirus pandemic, George Floyd’s murder changed everything. Soon, the streets were flooded with protestors and streaming services were the landing spots of sociopolitical songs by artists ranging from Run The Jewels to Lil Baby. Despite the conflicting messages between powerful movement songs — like RTJ’s “walking in the snow” and Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” — and the puzzling televised press conference where Killer Mike and T.I. supported Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms’ urging of Atlanta protestors to go home and not burn their own house — or as T.I. called it, “Wakanda” — down, the summer of 2020 has been written in history books as a significant moment in American history in which the people successfully influenced positive social justice progress, and everything considered, hip-hop still landed on the “right” side of the struggle for Black lives.
Three years later, the struggle for Black lives continues, but it looks drastically different than it did in 2020. Not only does the struggle look like a rally cry that a considerable amount of people in Atlanta and beyond have been miseducated about due to biased and misinformation from the mainstream media, the struggle is also now primarily taking place within the trees of a major a forest throughout Metro Atlanta. When I first heard the phrase “Stop Cop City” last year, I thought it was merely a call to stop a government-driven effort to drastically increase police presence in the streets of Atlanta, but I was completely mistaken about this complex, racist, anti-environmentalist, capitalist, and settler-colonialist issue.
As reported by CNN, in 2021 the City of Atlanta approved a proposal by the Atlanta Police Foundation — a nonprofit with a board of trustees comprised of leaders from corporations such as UPS, Wells Fargo, The Home Depot, Equifax and Delta Air Lines and whose Public Safety First Campaign has received $1 million donations from the likes of Chick-fil-A, The Coca-Cola Company, and Atlanta Hawks majority owner Tony Ressler, among others — to develop an expected $90 million, 85-acre police training facility. But, since the announcement of the project, there has been significant community resistance, with nearby residents citing racial injustice, police brutality, and environmental concerns as reasons why the police training facility should not see the light of day.
“The current landscape in Atlanta is shifting as the public rejects what government officials, police, and corporations are offering us,” says Ruth Boyajian, a Georgia State University student and organizer. “Watching them ignore the widespread public opposition to Cop City and use countless repression and intimidation tactics is radicalizing. They feed media headlines about honoring the legacies of activists, while actively replicating the conditions that previously criminalized those activists and repressed the movements they participated in.”
Understanding where this planned public safety training center is situated is just as important as understanding how this issue came to be. The 85-acre development — which is actually just a sliver of land mentioned in an allegedly legally questionable 350-acre ground lease agreement between the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation — exists within a forest that’s recognized by the government as the South River Forest and by activists as the Weelaunee Forest. The area in question rests in Southeast Atlanta, and for centuries, it has frequently been a site of land theft and criminal injustice. The land originally belonged to the indigenous Muscogee Creek peoples, but due to illegal land treaties and purchases throughout the 19th and 20th century, the stolen land eventually became the site of the Atlanta City Prison Farm — which profited from unpaid prisoner labor until the 1980s — and, in more recent years, an Atlanta police firing range.
Thus, land-centric capitalism is at the core of this issue. The parties in favor of this largely-opposed police training facility appear to seek profit from the land, while many of the people of the City of Atlanta and DeKalb County seek life and protection of the land. In a July 2021 open letter, the Georgia chapter of the non-profit environmental organization Sierra Club issued a statement that warned of the environmental catastrophes that would arise in the event that the Weelaunee is demolished in favor of police developments. In the letter, Sierra Club reminded readers that Atlanta is considered a city in a forest for a reason, and to explain the severity of damaging that sacred green space, the author wrote, “Fragmentation of the South River Forest will leave the surrounding areas susceptible to stormwater flooding, which is Atlanta’s top natural disaster, continually increasing in intensity due to climate change.” Considering the forest’s location in unincorporated DeKalb County, Black, brown, and poor people will be the primary population that’s affected by the impending natural disasters the Sierra Club outlined.
There is a reason why this planned police training facility has garnered the less than endearing moniker of Cop City. Within the 85-acre development, the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation have demarcated space to create a “mock city for burn building training and urban police training.” While this facility may sound like a step in the right direction to some proponents of more thorough and meaningful police training, the threat of an increasingly militarized police presence in a city that reacted to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 by murdering Rayshard Brooks less than a month after George Floyd’s public lynching cannot be overlooked or understated.
“This is environmental racism. This is one of the largest urban forests in America. You cut all that shit down and replace it with pavement, you know how much flooding is gonna happen in Atlanta?” Raury, a renowned Atlanta artist and activist, says. “You know what communities are going to experience those floods? You thought about the increase in temperature, just in general? And you know when it’s hot, niggas act up. Or say they home get’s flooded. Now they ain’t got no spot or they can’t afford to get that shit fixed. They might have to kick in a door. They might have to go do something. Cop City gon’ create those situations, and then they gon’ practice to violate said people that they’re putting in these positions.”
Simply put, Atlanta does not need a more intense, violent, and dehumanizing form of policing, whether of already marginalized groups of people, or others exercising their First Amendment Rights. Officers of the law have already proven that.
On January 18, 2023, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán — known by the community and the people in the movement as Tortuguita — was executed by a Georgia State Patrol SWAT team during a police raid of the forrest. The killing of Tortuguita brought even more attention to the Stop Cop City and Defend the Atlanta Forest Movements. In the response to the public outcry over yet another lethal police shooting in Atlanta, the GBI attempted to place the blame on the late 26-year-old activist. The GBI argued that Tortuguita initiated the violence by shooting at the police. However, according to an independent autopsy that was reported on by the Atlanta Press Collective, Tortuguita was shot 14 times while sitting in a cross-legged position with both of their hands in the air. The independent autopsy reveals Tortuguita was almost certainly facing their assailants, and despite the GBI’s claims of Tortuguita firing the first shot, there was no evidence of such close range firing, no presence of gunpowder soot or stippling in or around the gunshot wounds in their hands.
“The facade of the ‘city too busy to hate’ is shattering as people recognize that stopping cop city is a matter of life and death,” Boyajian says. “They already violently took the life of Tortuguita. They already learn repression tactics used against Palestinians through GILEE. Why could they possibly need this type of urban warfare training facility? Because they don’t want 2020 protests — or any other mass demonstrations — to ever be possible again.”
In the face of such tragic loss, the activist community has pushed forward with its resistance against Cop City while mourning Tortuguita and their sacrifice. In the aftermath of Tortuguita’s murder, Stop Cop City and Defend The Atlanta Forest organizers planned a week of action at the top of March. Throughout the week, events where scheduled, with people interested in the movement welcomed to attend protests, city hall meetings, canvasing meetups, and other community events. The major kick-off event for the week of action was a two-day music festival.
Over the course of two days, March 4 to March 5, the South River Music Festival was to feature performances from a slew of rising and well-known local acts, including Zack Fox, Father, Faye Webster, Raury, Lowertown, Ethereal, and Mercury, among many others. The free event was meant to offer a much-needed space of mindfulness, joy, and healing to a multigenerational crowd consisting of elders, middle-aged adults, college students, and youth.
But law enforcement officers from multiple agencies showed up to the Weelaunee Forest halfway through the festivities on March 5 with the sole intent of destroying the peaceful and uplifting community that the South River Music Festival had created.
“As I was on my way there, I was hearing that you know people are getting tear gassed, SWAT showing up, cops are towing cars. People got arrested, and I feel like not enough people care, honestly,” Raury, who was scheduled to perform on the second night of the festival, says. “Shout out to those that do care, that are showing up, and that are posting. Shout out to the preachers and the speakers that are speaking out against it. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I don’t think enough people give a fuck.”
Considering that this happened at a music festival in Atlanta, one would expect that at least some of the mainstream Black artists from Atlanta would have something to say about the police violence enacted upon music fans, but most, if not all, said nothing.
“There’s a lot of notable people in Atlanta, particularly Black leaders — fuckin’ ‘leaders’ — who are just puppets. Where you at when this shit is going on? And you know you know who they are. Where you at, Mr. Famous fucking rapper?” Raury says. “Nowhere! If you making anything close to six figures, seven figures, or even more, just give. Supply these people out there, give them generators, invest in some more tents and gas masks. Shit, retweet it. Get more eyes on what’s going on. You probably know all the politically connected lawyers to get yo ass out of a situation, but you don’t know the lawyers who can help you find the environmental lawyers to protect this land?”
While Raury calls for wealthy and influential Black entertainers to make a stand against Cop City, he also argues that we need to look beyond rappers in times like this and demand accountability from other leaders within the community.
“You know what? Forget the rappers. Yeah, T.I. or whoever, they could say something, but that’s not even who we really need to speak out. Where are the educated Black people here in Atlanta who claim that they care about us? Who are those people? And why aren’t they saying something?” Raury asks. “Because I don’t really give a damn about what T.I. gotta say about this. If you got a bag, put up a bag. If you got a platform, put it on your platform. But I don’t need some artists speaking for us — y’all not the ones to do it. Like I’m not the one to do it. We need to be further educated on who we should look to to speak on this, for real.”
Thinking along the same lines as Raury, the Atlanta Press Collective, Defend the Atlanta Forest, and Stop Cop City have all worked to documented the brutality, violence, and horrors of that night, and in the aftermath of the festival, a significant number of festival goers had to fight for bond and release from DeKalb County Jail with the weight of bogus domestic terrorism charges weighing over them. A full month after the police-instigated chaos on March 5, there are still South River Music Festival-goers who remain in jail while either awaiting trial or another bond hearing.
I witnessed the police invasion of the South River Music Festival in real-time on Twitter, and, in that moment, my heart and spirit called me to dedicate this ATL Untrapped column to the movement to Stop Cop City. But this time around, things have been different. In contrast to the unstoppable flow of words that traveled out of me as I wrote “Should the South have something to say?,” the words for this article have slowly trickled out from diffident and uneven keystrokes onto my screen. From the execution of Tortuguita to the arresting of music fans as “domestic terrorists,” this entire issue is heavy, and marks a time of reckoning. There is much Cop City information that I have yet to fully read, much less comprehend, yet it needs to be done. We all need to do so.
And, to be honest, I have been scared. Scared of this article not doing justice to Tortuguita who lost their life, and not doing justice to all of those people who have sacrificed their wellbeing for this movement. Scared that by just writing this column, I may be putting a target on my own back, inviting police harassment, arrest, or even death. Scared that the resistance against Cop City in Atlanta will only become increasingly more dangerous for Black and brown people. Most importantly, I’m scared that if I say nothing with my platform — and Cop City succeeds in destroying the Weelaunee Forest for its own racist and capitalist interests — I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror.
Thus, what originally was conceptualized as a critique of the silence of hip-hop artists eventually became a much-needed entry point for me, and hopefully others, to join the movement, not only to defend the forest, but to stop this militarization of the police, and to find ways to ensure that such work does not inherently lead to the activists’ and community’s collective detriment. According to Boyajian, the South River Music Festival, despite being cut short due to law enforcement’s antagonistic actions, is an amazing example of how organizing moments of fun and joy are just as important and impactful as organizing more traditional protest.
“The music festival was a beautiful act of love that gave us a chance to rest, reconnect with the forest, and ground us in communal care and a collective vision for radical joy,” Boyajian says. “We are constantly creating spaces out of nothing — spaces that represent the world we want to build. They can surveil our vigils and close our parks, but they can never take away our creativity or imagination.”
With that said, I offer the following phrase without fear, in hopes that local artists — following the examples set back of Raury, Twenny, and Julian Rose — echo it in their songs and on their platofrms, that elected officials and respected representatives echo it in their speeches, that religious leaders echo it in their churches, and that you, the reader, echo it in conversations moving forward: “Stop Cop City.” —CL—
For more resources and information on the movement and how to get involved, visit www.defendtheatlantaforest.org and www.stopcopcitysolidarity.org and follow Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City on Instagram at @defendatlantaforest and @stopcopcity, respectively.
Taking a stand against Cop City should be a top priorities for all of us in 2023, but as Boyajian already made clear, we must take time to rest, recharge, and take care of ourselves in times like this. So in the spirit of promoting spaces of joy and rap, here is this month’s curated selection of must-attend hip-hop concerts.
Raury, Smith’s Olde Bar — Several months in and Raury’s residency at Smith’s Olde Bar is still going strong. The unboxable artist and activist’s weekly Moon Jam is a real-deal interactive jam session with some performances from local artists mixed in, so if you haven’t yet experienced it for yourself, make sure you check it out sometime this month. — Joshua Robinson
Free. 7:00 p.m. Smith’s Olde Bar, 1578 Piedmont Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30324. www.sobatl.com @smithsoldebar
Curren$y & Jermaine Dupri, The Eastern — Curren$y and Jurmaine Dupri are both hip-hop legends in their own right. They recently joined forces to unleash their collaborative album, For Motivational Use Only Vol. 1. Now, days after dropping their long-awaited project, Spitta and JD are set to commemorate the moment by taking over the Eastern for a rare one-night-only performance. It’s not often that you get to see a hip-hop icon perform live without having to break the bank for tickets, so you’re not going to want to miss out on this opportunity to see Jermaine Dupri and Curren$y live in action. — Joshua Robinson
$37.50-$59. 8:30 p.m. The Eastern. 777 Memorial Dr SE Building C, Atlanta, GA 30316. www.easternatl.com @easternatl
Jay Americana, DVDX, 2oo7 & Hensleys, Underground Atlanta — If you’re looking for something that really captures the energy of the local underground scene, you should unironically head to Underground Atlanta on April 8. In celebration of their newly released EP 555, Jay Americana will be hosting Club 555, a late night filled with diverse musical offerings from artists such as DvDx, 2007, and Hensleys. This show will be fans’ first opportunity to see recently released cuts from Jay Americana and DvDx performed live, so make sure you secure your tickets for this under the radar show. — Joshua Robinson
$5-$10. 8:30 p.m. Club 555, InnerSpace, Underground Atlanta, 50 Upper Alabama St, Atlanta, 30303 https://ra.co/events/1672133 https://www.instagram.com/innerspace_atl/ Kris Pilcher
MIKE, Slauson Malone 1, Sideshow, Mercury, Popstar Benny & CRUZIN, Hell at The Masquerade — Some shows have line-ups so expertly curated and unexpectedly deep that you just know you’ll be in for a special experience. This month, no other show fits that description more than the Masquerade’s forthcoming MIKE show. Held in the Masqerade’s infamous hell venue, the concert will feature a slew of performances from MIKE, Slauson Malone 1, Sideshow, Mercury, Popstar Benny, and CRUZIN. Purchase your tickets as soon as possible and get ready to be amazed by perhaps the most elite alternative hip-hop show in Atlanta this April. — Joshua Robinson
$20. 7:00 p.m. The Masquerade, Kenny’s Alley at Underground Atlanta. Parking & Entrance at 75 MLK Jr Drive SW, Atlanta, 30303. Uber/LYFT Drop Off: 92 Pryor Street SW, Atlanta, GA 30303. 404-577-8178. masqueradeatlanta.com
Tink, Center Stage — Tink’s new album, Thanks For Nothing, dropped mid-February, and before March was over, she officially kicked off a tour of the same name Tour in support of her latest release. Now, before the Thanks For Nothing Tour has even hit the halfway point, it’s clear that the Chicago femcee’s hard work and dedication has paid off. To kick off April, Tink has been racking up a slew of sold-out shows throughout the Southeast, and on April 9, she’ll return to Atlanta for her third-consecutive sold out show this month. Although resale is pretty steep, Tink’s show is being advertised by Ticketmaster as “Tink & Friends,” so if the promise of surprise special guests is enough to win you over, grab your tickets before prices shoot up even more. — Joshua Robinson
$225-$880. 7:00 p.m. Center Stage Theater, 1374 West Peachtree St., Atlanta, 30309. 404-885-1365. centerstage-atlanta.com
Yung Nudy, Coca-Cola Roxy — Young Nudy has proven himself to be one of the city’s most prolific artists over the last handful of years, and he looks to keep that streak going in 2023. Just two months into the year, Nudy dropped off Gumbo, a new album that’s loaded with 13 tracks named after different types of food. Needless to say, fans have been eating Gumbo up, and this month, they will get another treat from the self-proclaimed East Atlanta Monster. On 4/20, Young Nudy will take over the Coca-Cola Roxy, so get ready to celebrate and try to fend off the munchies until after the show’s over. — Joshua Robinson
$132-$392. 8:00 p.m. Coca-Cola Roxy, The Battery Atlanta, 800 Battery Ave. SE #500, Atlanta, 30339. livenation.com/venue/KovZ917ACc7/coca-cola-roxy-events
Lil Wayne, Tabernacle — As you can probably tell from the insane resale prices listed below, Lil Wayne’s upcoming show at the Tabernacle is unfortunately already sold out, and with prices starting at $450, this concert should be all, but reserved for the most hardcore Wayne fans in Atlanta. Considering that Tha Carter VI is dangling over the hip-hopcommunity’s head and the fact that seeing Mr. Carter in person is truly an unforgettable experience, this concert may seem like a no-brainer for some, but if you’ve already seen Lil Wayne live, it’s probably safe to assume that you can sit this one out. — Joshua Robinson
$450-$1,925+. 8:00 p.m. Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St. NW., Atlanta, 30303. 404-659-9022. tabernacleatl.com
K Camp, Center Stage — This year is shaping up to be a big one for Atlanta’s own K Camp. In February, he announced a new independent partnership with TikTok for music distribution, and shortly thereafter, he unleashed his latest single, the B-Lovee-assisted “Pretty Ones.” K Camp kept his momentum going by hitting the road and taking his Pretty Ones Tour all over the South and the Midwest, and later this month, he will bring the tour to a close with two sold-out homecoming shows. Fortunately, resale prices aren’t too pricey, so take advantage of them while you can. — Joshua Robinson
$52-$98:00 p.m. Center Stage Theater, 1374 West Peachtree St., Atlanta, 30309. 404-885-1365. centerstage-atlanta.com @centerstageatl
K Camp, Center Stage — The FLOAT artist returns to Center Stage’s premier venue for an epic sold-out hometown finale to his Pretty Ones Tour. — Joshua Robinson
$630. 8:00 p.m. Center Stage. Center Stage Theater, 1374 West Peachtree St., Atlanta, 30309. 404-885-1365. centerstage-atlanta.com @centerstageatl
Janet Jackson & Ludacris, State Farm Arena — April’s concert calendar will wrap up in the same way that it started — with rare performances from two industry legends. This time around, Janet Jackson and Ludacris will be the main attractions as they bring their sprawling Together Again Tour to State Farm Arena for an exciting two-night stint. Neither Janet nor Luda have released any new work since 2015, so you don’t even have to worry about learning some new music before you go. Just go and enjoy a night full of hits. — Joshua Robinson
$49-$499+. 8:00 p.m. State Farm Arena, 1 State Farm Drive, Atlanta, 30303. 404-878-3000. https://www.statefarmarena.com/
Janet Jackson & Ludacris, State Farm Arena — Janet Jackson and Ludacris will double-back to State Farm for an encore performance, so if you can’t make the first night, you’ll have one more chance before the R&B and hip-hop icons take the Together Again Tour elsewhere. — Joshua Robinson
$43-$499+. 8:00 p.m. State Farm Arena, 1 State Farm Drive, Atlanta, 30303. 404-878-3000. https://www.statefarmarena.com/