Unicorn Riot Coverage of the Movement to Protect the Atlanta Forest

When the city of Atlanta, GA approved the construction of a massive police training compound in 2021, the community responded. In the nearly two years since plans to build the country’s largest police training facility were first exposed, a diverse movement has erupted against the construction of what activists have dubbed ‘Cop City.’

The training facility is not the only project aiming to deforest and develop the area. Ryan Millsap, owner of Blackhall Real Estate Phase II, LLC, believes he owns 40 acres of Weelaunee People’s Park (aka Intrenchment Creek Park) because of a land swap deal finalized on Feb. 11, 2021 with DeKalb County. According to the QuitClaim Deed signed on Jan. 29, 2021, Blackhall “determined that the expansion of Blackhall Studios can best be accommodated on the DeKalb County Property.”

(An ongoing lawsuit questions the legality of Millsap’s ownership.)

Throughout the years, Unicorn Riot has been on the ground covering the struggle to protect 381 wooded acres in Weelaunee, aka the South River Forest, just south of metro Atlanta.

From regular updates on protests and repression to a deep-dive mini documentary summarizing the movement, here’s a landing page of Unicorn Riot coverage from Atlanta.

March 2023 Week of Action (More here)

Atlanta, GA – Atlanta-area forest defenders, community activists and their allies from around the country and the world are initiating a ‘week of action’ against a proposed ‘Cop City’ urban warfare campus and a movie industry facility that would demolish much of the largest urban forest in the country.

Sunday, March 12: As the sun began to come up over Weelaunee People’s Park, family and friends of Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán led a memorial ceremony attended by several hundred mourners. Tortuguita’s mother Belkis Terán, father Joel Paez, and brother Daniel Paez addressed the crowd before everyone marched into the South River Forest where they spread their slain relative’s ashes throughout the forest that they died to defend.

Saturday, March 11: At around 7:30 a.m., Atlanta Police raided and searched the property of the Lakewood Environmental Arts Foundation (LEAF Center), which had served as a hub for street medics and was letting some who traveled to attend the week of action to camp on their land. Police reportedly awoke everyone present at gunpoint with a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), detaining 22 people but only arresting one person on an old traffic ticket from another county. Police claimed to have a search warrant but did not present one when asked. After they left, tents and food/medical supplies were found to have been destroyed and several vehicles on site had their windows smashed.

At around 10 a.m., a ‘#StopCopCity ‘Weelaunee Youth Rally and Festival’ led by children and families met at Brownwood Park before marching through the surrounding streets. The march then returned to the park where music was playing, food was served, and children enjoyed arts and crafts and facepainting stations.

After the youth event, a press conference was held to address the morning raid on the LEAF Center as well as the news about the independent autopsy of Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán.

Friday, March 10: Daily morning and afternoon protests continued against the Atlanta Police Foundation and its corporate sponsors. At approximately 6 p.m. eastern time, news broke that an independent autopsy found that slain forest defender Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán was sitting down with their hands up when shot 13 times by Georgia State Patrol during a raid on tree-sitters and protest camps in the forest on January 18. Georgia authorities still claim, without evidence, that Terán shot first.

Thursday, March 9: A crowd of hundreds attended a Black and Indigenous-led rally outside the Martin Luther King, Jr. center before marching to the Atlanta Police Foundation headquarters in downtown Atlanta.

Wednesday, March 8: Protests in downtown Atlanta continued, with groups of demonstrators passing out literature to passersby in the busy area packed with office towers and restaurants.

When protesters were passing out leaflets 300 feet from the Atlanta Police Foundation office at 191 Peachtree St, Atlanta Police Lt. Neil Welch ordered them to disperse or face arrest. When questioned by Unicorn Riot about the legal basis of the dispersal order, Lt. Welch said that the crowd was both “big” and “small.”

That evening, upwards of 100 people joined a vigil and noise demo outside the DeKalb County Jail in Decatur, GA to show support for the 22 arrestees from Sunday, March 5 who were swept up at the music festival and charged with “Domestic Terrorism,” mostly without any individualized evidence. Messages were shouted to the crowd from arrested protesters inside the jail, and other detainees at the jail showed their appreciation for those outside by lighting cloth items on fire and tossing them out their cell windows.

Tuesday, March 7: Protesters denounced ‘Cop City’ outside the office of the Atlanta Police Foundation and visited locations of corporate sponsors of the project including AT&T and Georgia State University. A large group of heavily armed police closely followed the crowd, outnumbering them and behaving in a threatening and intimidating fashion.

Monday, March 6: An interfaith group of clergy orated against the ‘Cop City’ project outside Atlanta City Hall before joining the public comment session of a City Council meeting to denounce the urban warfare training facility.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum also made a presentation to City Council, offering selectively cherry-picked evidence to defend the ‘Cop City’ project and advance the misleading narrative that those resisting deforestation/construction were all “outside agitators” engaged in “domestic terrorism.”

When questioned by UR’s reporter inside City Hall after his presentation, Chief Schierbaum declined to respond to claims that his officers were selectively arresting people from out of state in order to further the “outside agitator” narrative.

Unicorn Riot also heard from Atlanta City Council member Liliana Bakhtiari about how the Atlanta Police Foundation has been dodging city council inquiries about concerns with the ‘Cop City’ project.

UPDATE: 3/6/23 – According to the Atlanta Police Department press release, there were at least 35 people detained from Sunday night’s massive police mobilization. Unicorn Riot also learned that of those arrested, approximately 22 were charged with state-level domestic terrorism charges, moving the total number of people connected to the ‘Stop Cop City’ movement who are facing domestic terrorism charges to around 42.

Sunday, March 5: Police Action near ‘Cop City’ Opponents’ Gathering:

After the largest march to date through the Atlanta Forest, police have mobilized near an anti-‘Cop City’ music festival along Constitution Road, near the RC Field. Some festival-goers and protesters were arrested in the woods, as armed state police swept the area. At its height, there were about 500 people attending the festival.

Earlier in the evening a group of people headed for a security outpost used to surveil parts of the forest construction area, were able to overrun the facility and set equipment/infrastructure on fire.

Saturday, March 4: ‘Week of Action’ opens with rally and march

Check out our live coverage from the rally below:

During the summer of 2022, we produced a mini documentary summarizing the movement’s strategies and goals. Unicorn Riot heard from people on the ground in Atlanta about their diverse efforts to defend both the forest and the community from the Atlanta Police Foundation’s Public Safety Training Center.

On Jan. 18, 2023, police shot and killed forest defender Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán, claiming without clear proof provided that Terán shot at a Georgia State Patrol trooper during a SWAT raid on forest defenders.

We heard from some of Terán’s closest friends.

Video Highlights

[Chronological order]

Protesters March Through Atlanta to “Stop Cop City” [May 14, 2022]

Atlanta Police Discuss Using ‘Deadly Force’ On Environmental Protesters [May 17, 2022]

Contractor’s Truck Set on Fire by Atlanta Forest Protectors [July 30, 2022]

SWAT Teams Attack Atlanta Forest Encampments, Activists Charged with “Terrorism” [Dec. 13-14, 2022]

Atlanta Forest Solstice Potluck Amid State Repression and Park Destruction [Dec. 21, 2022]

Work Crew Hired by Ryan Millsap Illegally Removes Trees in Atlanta Forest [Dec. 22, 2022]

A Timeline of Coverage

[Most recent to past]

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