ATLANTA – The Black Southern Women’s Collaborative (BSWC) today condemned the furtherance of “Cop City” in Atlanta. The BSWC is a network of Black women organizing in the South to improve the material conditions of Black people. It includes Phyllis Hill, national organizing director for Faith in Action and founder of the BSWC; Kendra Cotton, executive director of the New Georgia Project; Ashley K. Shelton, president, and founder of The Power Coalition for Equity & Justice; the Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida; Nsombi Lambright, executive director of One Voice; Tameka Greer, executive director of Memphis Artists for Change. Hill and Cotton issued the following statement urging the Atlanta City Council to abandon the project and refrain from expanding its budget:
“Cop City is far more sinister than a training facility,” Hill said. “It is an example of the ways in which democracy is being undermined and protests criminalized. The right to peaceably assemble and petition the government is being aggressively curtailed, not just in Atlanta but in communities across the country. If Cop City persists, we will see continued dehumanization and criminalization of Black and Brown people in the south and across the nation.”
“I am concerned with the threats to citizens’ right to protest,” Hill said. “We have seen a host of tactics and policies in states such as Tennessee and Florida, considered “red” states. In those states conservatives control major branches of government. To see our right to protest being criminalized in a city with Black leadership is disheartening and it is dangerous.”
Several members of the BSWC have written on the criminalization of protests including Shelton and Greer. Their pieces are here and here.
“Arresting organizers and witnesses, which law enforcement has done, sets a dangerous precedent and is an attempt to silence outcry,” Cotton added. “This tactic was on display when poll watchers and chaplains were harassed and intimidated during the civil rights movement and during heated elections in modern times.”
“We know that the first step in character assassination is changing a person’s name,” Cotton said. “When policymakers and police personnel call demonstrator’s criminal, what they are actually doing is maligning their character and subtly urging the public to focus on other things – because these people don’t warrant attention or care. Much like the words “woke,” and “thug,” wrongly put a target on the backs of Black people, “criminal” is being used to justify harsh and extreme treatment.”
“Whether in Atlanta or elsewhere, the American people do not condone a police state,” Hill concluded. “There have been hours upon hours of public testimony from residents of Atlanta who have expressed opposition to Cop City, and let policymakers are moving ahead with plans. If the militarization of police is permitted in Atlanta, it is only a matter of time before we see a rogue police state across the country.”
The Black Southern Women’s Collaborative is a network of Black women-led organizations engaging in movement work. Its goal is to construct an equitable future by building Black Southern regional power in the face of white supremacy. It is designed to be a safe and supportive space for Black women organizers and executive directors from the South.