A note before we begin – while colonizers squabble over private property, landlords, and who owns what, it is of the utmost importance to state that the Atlanta Prison Farm, Intrenchment Creek Park, and all of the Weeluanee Forest belongs first and foremost to the Muscogee People.
With no warning and little legal justification, a mass of DeKalb County police officers accompanied by construction equipment and paving machines descended upon Intrenchment Creek Park (ICP) on the morning of Friday, July 15th.
Barricades were placed at the entrances of two parking lots with access to the park, effectively preventing vehicle access to the park. While pedestrian access points remain physically unblocked, “private property – no trespassing” signs have been posted at multiple spots. As of Monday afternoon, it remains unclear to what extent this so-called trespassing will be enforced by DeKalb County PD.
ICP has long been threatened by nearby Blackhall Studios. In October 2020, a land swap between Blackhall and DeKalb County was approved by the DeKalb Board of Commissioners after nearly two years of debate. 40 acres of park land and forest was swapped for approximately 52 acres of land located to the north and east of what would remain of ICP after the swap. DeKalb County announced that this largely clear-cut land would become, in part, a future ”Michelle Obama Park”.
In addition to concerns about the swap already being illegal, the situation became even more precarious for the studio in spring 2021. Founder Ryan Millsap sold the studios to California-based private equity firm Commonwealth Group, putting the financial contributions Blackhall had promised to make into the relocated ICP at risk.
Speaking to Saporta Report in April 2021, Millsap stated that the promises he and Blackhall made to the community and county government to drum up support for the land swap were now in the hands of ”the guys that bought it” – and that those guys had bought Blackhall’s assets under ”no conditions”. However, Millsap did reccommend that being a ”good community steward is intelligent business,” which makes us here at ACPC question exactly what community he thinks any of this is benefitting.
Millsap remains a minority owner in what remains of Blackhall – now known as Shadowbox – Studios.
At time of publication, Blackhall Real Estate Phase II LLC is listed as the owner of land parcel 15 083 01 004 by DeKalb County. This land parcel is more commonly known as the 40 acres of Intrenchment Creek Park involved in the land swap. While the registration for this shell company has not been updated since 2021, it can easily be traced back to Millsap.
Whether Millsap or Commonwealth Group/Shadowbox Studios owns the swapped 40 acres, the facts are clear: the land swap is in legal limbo due to a lawsuit brought by community groups including the South River Watershed Alliance and the South River Forest Coalition. ACPC understands that it is common practice for both parties in a lawsuit such as this to agree to détente for the duration of a lawsuit such as this to avoid an injunction being filed by either party. In effect, Intrenchment Creek Park is supposed to remain open to the public while the fate of the swap is decided.
Concerned community members quickly mobilized. Numerous calls were placed to the offices of Commissioner Ted Terry, Commissioner Larry Johnson, the county parks department, and even county CEO Michael Thurmond’s office. All of these offices were unable to provide callers with any information on the barricades, paving machines or park closed signs. This is confirmation in and of itself that DeKalb County PD took it upon themselves to act on behalf a private property owner – be they Ryan Millsap or the Commonwealth Group/Shadowbox Studios – that does not have a clear legal right to the land due to the pending lawsuit.
Onlookers reported at least seven DeKalb County police vehicles and approximately a dozen DeKalb officers in the area as concrete barricades were placed and paving equipment moved in near the park and its parking lots. It is unclear if police or workers placed the various ”PARK CLOSED” and ”NO TRESPASSING” signs. Police left the area once the concrete barricades were in place, but a handful of officers continued to patrol Shadowbox Studios’ other nearby properties on Constitution Road.
It is the opinion of ACPC that the unnamed property owner gave Dekalb County PD its marching orders and has not acted in good faith or in accordance with legal precedent. It is truly outrageous but utterly unsurprising that the police would act in the interests of wealthy, private landowners – that is, after all, what the police have always done.
In a statement provided to ACPC, Dr. Jacqueline Echols, president of the South River Watershed Alliance stated, “…while we wait for this egregious wrong to be made right, the diverse leadership of the two largest and most diverse municipalities [City of Atlanta and DeKalb County] in the state stand as the most flagrant violators of the human rights of marginalized and vulnerable communities to enjoy a safe, prosperous, and healthy living environment.” Read the SRWA’s full statement below.
ACPC stands in agreement with Dr. Echols, and in solidarity with forest defenders. Again, we remind all concerned about the fate of this land that before it was a movie studio or a cop training facility, it was a prison farm. Before that, it was a plantation. And before that, at the beginning of it all, this land was stolen from the Muscogee people. Building a playground for modern-day slave catchers and slimy real estate moguls is a perpetuation of the violence enacted upon this land and its residents for generations. It is for this reason that Cop City must never be build, and the swap must be stopped.
with thanks to Saporta Report, forest defenders, South River Watershed Alliance, South River Forest Coalition, and many others