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Georgia Leaders Want to Save Cop City via Voter Suppression

Republicans and Democrats are joining forces to stop people from voting against the massive police facility.

A makeshift memorial for environmental activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, known as Tortuguita, who was killed by law enforcement during a raid to clear the construction site of Cop City

Republican-led Georgia is joining hands with Democrat-led Atlanta to commit voter suppression in order to stop people from voting against Cop City, a massive $90 million police training facility that will also require razing forest land.

Local residents have been working for over a month to gather signatures for a public referendum, demanding the city repeal the lease agreement for the forest land set to be destroyed. But state leaders are pushing back, determined to undermine democracy to save Cop City.

Two weeks ago, residents in Dekalb County sued the city of Atlanta and state of Georgia in federal court, asking to be able to collect signatures for the referendum as well, arguing that since they live so close to the city-owned land where the police facility is planned, they ought to be able to participate in the process.

And both city and state officials took the legal challenge as an opportunity to tee off on and invalidate the whole effort.

Last week, the City of Atlanta submitted a court filing, arguing that the referendum was “invalid” and a “futile” effort.

“Repeal of a years’ old ordinance cannot retroactively revoke authorization to do something that has already been done. But even if the referendum could claim to result in a revocation or cancellation of the lease, it would still be invalid because it would amount to an impermissible impairment of that contract,” the filing read.

“The City had no intention of engaging the Court, preferring to let the petition process play out as required by the State referendum process. However, a small group of non-Atlanta residents in DeKalb County brought the City into Court, and the City was compelled to respond,” a spokesperson for the Atlanta mayor said in a statement. “We remain supportive of the right to free speech of those opposed to the Public Safety Training Center and remain committed to moving forward with this critical project for the safety of our communities.”

(Two weeks ago, Democratic Mayor Andre Dickens said that “we know [the referendum] is going to be unsuccessful, if it’s done honestly.”)

On Wednesday, the state of Georgia piled on, calling the whole effort “entirely invalid under Georgia law.”

“Plaintiff’s claims are likely moot because the ballot initiative is entirely invalid under Georgia law,” the filing says in response to the lawsuit from DeKalb County residents. “The Georgia Supreme Court has held that, as it relates to cities (as opposed to counties), ballot referendum petitions are ‘available only for proposed amendments to the city charter’ and not to resolutions or ordinances not impacting the charter itself.”

So not only are officials fighting the lawsuit asking for more participation, they are also working to invalidate the entire referendum.

Georgia and Atlanta officials, both in the filings and elsewhere, have claimed they are engaging with the public and that is why they are moving forward with the facility.

But what engagement could they be referring to? Last month, the Atlanta City Council held a hearing on Cop City and hundreds of people showed up to voice their opposition, with more than 15 hours of public comment and protesting and more than 230 comments against the gargantuan police facility. But the City Council went ahead and approved $67 million for the facility at 5:30 a.m. the next day.

City and state officials hadn’t done much to inspire confidence before that, either.

In January, Atlanta police shot and killed forest defender Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, known as Tortuguita. Contrary to police claims that the officers only shot after being shot at first, an independent autopsy found Tortuguita’s hands were raised during the shooting. Even worse, police shot Tortuguita at least 57 times.

Then in March, dozens of people were indiscriminately arrested at a music festival organized by protesters. They were detained on accusations of participating in vandalism and arson at a construction site that was over a mile away from where the music festival was being held. Some were even charged with domestic terrorism. Many were arrested and denied bond on the grounds of having muddy shoes (they were all in a forest, where it had rained) or being “part of the team” because they were wearing black.

And finally, in May, Atlanta police used a heavy-duty police truck and hordes of riot police to arrest just three individuals who had been helping organize bail funds and legal support for protesters. The trio were arrested on flimsy charges of “money laundering” and “charity fraud.” Even the presiding judge seemed unmoved by the prosecution. “I don’t find it very impressive,” he said. “There’s not a lot of meat on the bones.”

All this havoc is what Georgia Republicans and Atlanta Democrats are not only defending but encouraging by throwing nearly $100 million more toward the police.

“Atlanta Democrats regularly denounce Georgia Republicans for voter suppression, but when it comes to the Stop Cop City movement, we see both Democrats and Republicans arguing in court that the people of Atlanta should not have the right to vote on what happens in their backyards,” said Dr. Mariah Parker, labor organizer and former Georgia County commissioner. “Atlanta Democrats are making clear that voter suppression is not limited to one political party.”