J. Pharoah Doss: ‘Cop City’— martyr or cautionary tale?

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

In September of 2021, the Atlanta City Council leased forested land to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a training facility. Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottom, said the facility will provide the necessary space to ensure that police officers and first responders receive 21st-century training.

“Abolish the police” activists insisted law enforcement didn’t deserve a new facility, and environmentalists expected the area to be turned into a park.

The movement to halt construction was called “Stop Cop City”.  

In December 2021, the movement created an encampment for “forest defenders” protesting the training facility. In January, the bulldozers arrived to start construction, and dozens of “forest defenders” got into skirmishes with police that led to arrests. City officials told the “forest defenders” they were trespassing on private land, but the “forest defenders” continued to have clashes with the police.

In May 2022, “forest defenders” threw Molotov cocktails at officers patrolling the area.

A month later, a Guardian columnist described the entrance to the “forest defenders” encampment. “The sign in the forest reads: You Are Now Leaving the USA.” Then, high up among the branches of white oak trees, there is a tree house the size of a closet. It drapes all sides with white sheets bearing painted messages like ‘No Police’, ‘No Pipelines’, and ‘No Prisons’.”   The Guardian also had photographs of “forest defenders” in camouflage and ski masks.

The “forest defenders”, whose encampment was made up of makeshift tree houses, looked prepared for guerilla warfare.

One forest defender told a reporter, “A lot of people out here had friends who’ve died, been imprisoned, been shot, and experienced a lot of trauma, so they have a internalized hatred of police. There are other people who are very aware of the fact that the police are human beings who are trying to do what they think is right.”

From that comment, you can figure out there were some disagreements between the “abolish the police” activists and the environmentalists about the violence.

In December 2022, Axios Atlanta reported that a task force of local, state, and federal officers attempted to remove barricades installed by activists to block access to the property, but several “forest defenders” threw rocks at police cars and attacked EMTs outside a neighboring fire station with rocks and bottles. This time the “forest defenders” that were arrested were charged with domestic terrorism.

Police tried to persuade those remaining at the encampment to leave.

Meanwhile, the Governor of Georgia issued a statement that referred to the encampment as a “criminal network” and said that law enforcement would ensure the construction of the training facility.

At this point, any activist that disagreed with the violence needed to leave the forest.  It was apparent any activist that stayed in the forest believed their encampment was no longer in the USA and the rule of law didn’t apply to them.

The “forest defenders” hung another sign that said: Forest Defense is Self-Defense.

When law enforcement officers saw that sign, it’s most likely they assumed the “forest defenders” were now armed. Too bad there wasn’t another sign that said: Channeling social disillusionment into activism is not progressive its counterproductive.

Two weeks ago, The Guardian’s headline said: Assassinated in Cold Blood: Activist killed protesting Georgia’s Cop City. The Guardian reported that the killing of Manuel Teran, 26, is unprecedented in the history of environmental activism. Keith Woodhouse, professor of history at Northwestern University, said, “Killings of environmental activists by the state are depressingly common in other countries like Brazil, Honduras, and Nigeria, but this has never happened in the US.”

Protesters gathered in downtown Atlanta and masked activists torched a police cruiser, smashed windows, and vandalized walls with anti-cop graffiti.

However, Fox News’ coverage of the shooting was different. Their headline said: Georgia state trooper shot by protester at ‘Cop City’ near Atlanta. This report stated the police were clearing the encampment when an individual, without warning, shot a state trooper, wounding the officer, and other officers returned fire in self-defense, killing the person who fired upon them.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations released a photograph of the handgun that was in Manuel Teran’s possession, and forensics confirmed that the projectile recovered from the trooper’s wound matched the same handgun.

No matter what The Guardian’s headline says, the “Stop Cop City” movement doesn’t have a martyr, but Manuel may be a victim of the movement’s misguidedness.


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