ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta City Council early Tuesday approved funding for the construction of a proposed police and firefighter training center, rejecting the pleas of hundreds of opponents who packed City Hall and spoke for hours in fierce opposition to the project.
The 11-4 vote just after 5 a.m. is a significant victory for Mayor Andre Dickens, who has made the $90 million project a large part of his first term in office, despite significant pushback to the effort. The City Council also passed a resolution requesting two seats on the Atlanta Police Foundation’s board.
For about 14 hours, residents again and again took to the podium to oppose the project, saying it would be a gross misuse of public funds to build the huge facility in a large urban forest in a poor, majority-Black area.
The training center was approved by the City Council in September 2021 but required an additional vote for more funding. City officials say the new 85-acre campus would replace inadequate training facilities and would help address difficulties in hiring and retaining police officers that worsened after nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice three years ago.
Protesters had been camping at the site since at least last year, and police said they had caused damage and attacked law enforcement officers and others.
Councilmembers agreed to approve $31 million in public funds for the site’s construction, as well as a provision that requires the city to pay $36 million — $1.2 million a year over 30 years — for using the facility. The rest of the $90 million project would come from private donations to the Atlanta Police Foundation, though city officials had, until recently, repeatedly said that the public obligation would only be $31 million.
The highly scrutinized vote also comes in the wake of the arrests Wednesday of three organizers who lead the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which has provided bail money and helped find attorneys for arrested protesters.
Prosecutors have accused the three activists of money laundering and charity fraud, saying they used some of the money to fund violent acts of “forest defenders.” Warrants cite reimbursements for expenses including “gasoline, forest clean-up, totes, covid rapid tests, media, yard signs.”
Numerous instances of violence and vandalism have been linked to the opposition movement, including a January protest in downtown Atlanta in which a police car was set alight as well as a March attack in which more than 150 masked protesters chased off police at the construction site and torched construction equipment before fleeing and blending in with a crowd at a nearby music festival. Those two instances have led to more than 40 people being charged with domestic terrorism, though prosecutors have had difficulty so far in proving that many of those arrested were in fact those who took part in the violence.
In a sign of the security concerns Monday, dozens of police officers were posted throughout City Hall and officials temporarily added “liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes” to the list of things prohibited inside the building.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here