The People’s Forest

Nothing Defunded

ATL didn’t defund the police. They gave them more money. I’ve lived in ATL since 2015, and it’s always been a city of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ However, the gap between rich and poor has only gotten worse since the pandemic started. Tent cities and beggars are on almost every street corner. Atlanta has the prestigious title of being the United States’ most economically unequal city.

 At the high end, [Atlanta] looks like one of the most successful American cities, like a San Francisco or a New York or a Washington. But at its low end, one of America’s poor cities.”

The city that was the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has the greatest wealth disparity in the nation. The exact thing Dr. King spent his entire adult life fighting against. He wanted a just and economically equal society. The rapid gentrification of Atlanta has only increased the gap between the rich and poor. With more urbanization, the City of Atlanta, also known as the City in the Forest, is seeing its massive tree canopy cut down at an alarming rate. This is at a time when climate change and extreme weather have become the new norm and threaten countless lives. 

The city’s political leadership and the corporate elite could use its massive amount of resources to bridge the wealth gap and protect its world-famous tree line. Yet, they’ve chosen to fund more police and build an enormous police training facility known as Cop City to deal with the rampant inequality. 

This is no doubt a response to the political uprisings of 2020 in the wake of the violent and brutal murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In the summer of 2020, a young man named Rayshard Brooks was murdered by Atlanta Police. A young man trying to get his life together was struck down, leaving a grieving family and a child without a father. All these events, coupled with other instances of police brutality, led to massive riots, demonstrations, and calls to defund the police.

In the State of Georgia and in Atlanta, we’ve seen both Democrats and Republicans at all levels of government join forces to fund more police and give them military-grade gear. It mirrors the federal government, where both parties come together to support more military, all while getting corporate backing. At the local level in Atlanta, many corporations are gleefully funding the Atlanta police and ensuring the police state is strong. The police state, corporate power, and oppression of people’s wants and needs are coming to a head with the proposed building of Cop City in Atlanta’s largest green space, the South River Forest. 

Weelaunee People’s Park    

The highly contested South River Forest, also known as the Weelaunee People’s Park, is a region of the city where the local community, activists, nonprofits, and environmentalists have come together to fight the building of the proposed movie studio and massive police training facility. The South River Forest has a long troubled history. 

The land also carries a dark history. Originally inhabited by the Muscogee (Creek) Tribe before their forced removal in the early 19th century, the land became part of a complex of farms that included a slave plantation and a federal prison labor site. The area slated to be Cop City was eventually sold to the City of Atlanta, which used it for forced agricultural labor by incarcerated people from 1920 to the late 1980s.”

The Weelaunee People’s Park is located in Southeast Atlanta, in Dekalb County. This area is home to primarily working-class black communities that live near and in the forest. This region is also home to a prison, a police shooting range, and a juvenile detention center. A community with a massive law enforcement presence has been chosen once again to house the largest police training facility in the country.

This won’t be a facility where cops learn how to deal with the public respectfully and where they work as agents to serve the people. This facility will be a breeding ground for showing cops new and violent ways to suppress and harass the masses of poor black and brown people. Brave individuals from the Southeast and all over the nation have flocked to People’s Forest to protect it from the planned development. The state has already deemed some of these heroes as terrorists, but like many activists fighting to preserve communities and natural green spaces across the globe, these folks are indeed the forest protectors

  • Geoffrey Parsons, age 20, of Maryland
  • Spencer Bernard Liberto, age 29, of Pennsylvania
  • Matthew Ernest Macar, age 30, of Pennsylvania
  • Timothy Murphy, age 25, of Maine
  • Christopher Reynolds, age 31, of Ohio
  • Teresa Shen, age 31, of New York
  • Sarah Wasilewski, age 35, of Pennsylvania.

These are the names of forest defenders who had been charged as domestic terrorists. Their actual crime was standing up to corporate power and the police state despite this being a public space. These activists supposedly have their first amendment protections, but we know that’s a sham. The 1st Amendment goes out the window once you challenge power. Because everyday people don’t have rights, we have privileges that can be taken away as soon as we challenge those with influence. 

One person lost their life defending this space. Their name was Tortuguita, a.k.a Tort. A person who will never spend another holiday with their friends and family. A state trooper murdered them during an early morning police raid by state troopers and Atlanta police in January 2023.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending time in the People’s Forest. I’ve seen the aftermath of this raid on the Forest Protectors. They’ve cut down trees, demolished tree houses, and destroyed public property to intimidate and bully those who stood for their first amendment rights. Under capitalism, nothing is sacared. The powers that be only see this land as a place to make money and build a terrorist training facility. Shout out to Atlanta Police! The only things that matter to those with power are gaining more power and money. Human life doesn’t matter, animal life doesn’t matter, and Mother Nature is only there to be raped and pillaged for capital. 

In the next few weeks and months, the corporate media, the Atlanta PD, and the State will demonize those who dared to stand up to power. There’ll be countless everyday people with no compassion or remorse beyond themselves that will side with corporate governance and the police state further to criticize the brave souls on the front lines and in the aftermath of Tort’s death. People who’ve managed to stand up to further destruction of the natural environment. This local fight in Atlanta has gained national and international attention.

This battle mirrors a much larger war that is taking place globally. The fight to maintain the earth to support humanity and all the beings we share this planet with. Countless forest protectors and climate activists have been murdered and repressed by police and state agents all over the planet. Global Warming is staring humanity in the face. Massive heatwaves, droughts, floods, and superstorms have devastated lands and displaced millions worldwide. The powers that be has decided that militarization and repression is the best way to deal with climate disaster because corporations have to make money until the very end. 

I stand with the forest defenders here in Atlanta and those fighting to protect Mother Nature worldwide. The poorest people in Atlanta need housing, food, and jobs, not more policing. I’ll leave you with photos of the destruction of the People’s Forest post the police raid. It shows the disrespect that those with power have for nature and the folks who protect it. Here’s a link for those who want to get involved with Defend Atlanta Forest. Ultimately, the land doesn’t need us to survive, but we all need the land to survive.

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