Shared on behalf of the Weelaunee Coalition
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 21st, 2022
Please direct all inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mayor Dickens, City Council members, and City Council President,
We write to you as a coalition of educators, community organizers, parents, and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods and communities of South River forest, or Weelaunee Forest, as it was known by its Muscogee name, to communicate our concerns regarding police treatment of supporters of the movement to stop ‘cop city’ and defend the Atlanta forest.
Over the course of the last year and a half, we have witnessed an escalation of tactics against people who oppose the construction of the proposed police training center, from the aggressive arrest of protestors who were peacefully protesting on the sidewalk and charged with “pedestrian in roadway,” in September 2021 to the use of chemical weapons against peaceful tree sitters in last week’s raid of the encampment in Weelaunee Forest.
On December 13th and 14th, Dekalb County police, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and Georgia State Patrol raided a protest encampment in Weelaunee Forest. They attacked unarmed people with tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. The police forced people out of the trees at gunpoint. They used heavy equipment to destroy a communal kitchen, a community garden, a sukkah (traditional hut for Jewish ceremony), and containers for storing water.
We are horrified by the accounts we have heard from people who were attacked by the police.
We call on you to take action in support of the people who have been violated and harmed by the police. The police transgressions against the constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly are unacceptable, and we demand our elected officials defend the right to protest and condemn the use of chemical weapons against protestors.
6 people have been charged with ‘domestic terrorism,’ simply for being affiliated with the movement. These individuals are political prisoners: they have been arrested and denied bond to send a message to an entire movement.
When Magistrate Judge Claire Jason denied bond to five of the people arrested, she said: “Each of you have been charged with domestic terrorism… Generally the information that I have on the affidavit of warrant…You did participate in actions of DTAF, Defend the Atlanta Forest, a group that’s been classified by the United States Department of Homeland Security as a domestic violent extremist group.” This sets a dangerous precedent, under the City of Atlanta’s watch, for the repression of political dissent. There is a coordinated effort to delegitimize this movement and paint its supporters with broad strokes as “outsiders” and “terrorists.”
We are not outsiders, and we are not terrorists. We are children who have chanted in the streets and in their classrooms, “Don’t cut down the trees.” We are the Educators trying to teach our future generations that voicing what you believe is necessary; we are community members working together to protect the Weelaunee Forest and resist the construction of the largest police training facility in US history. We are diverse and intergenerational, and we are dedicated to cultivating networks of care for each other and for our forest. We have worked tirelessly with our neighbors and friends since summer of 2021 to protect the forest, stop the APF’s facility, and educate each other about the history of Weelaunee Forest. From the forceful removal of Muscogee people, to the plantations in Weelaunee Forest, to the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, Weelaunee Forest has a history of violence that this facility would only perpetuate. We are determined to end this legacy of violence.
Over the last year and a half, a movement has formed. A movement that defends the forest and fights for an end to the cycle of harm that Weelaunee Forest has been subjected to. We are a movement, not a group. We are decentralized, and we are leaderless. It is our right and responsibility to gather in resistance to the injustices happening in Weelaunee Forest.
One of our greatest sources of joy and resistance is gathering in our beloved forest, especially with our families. We visit with our children to honor the grandmother tree, take walks on the path, tend to the community garden, and be in harmony with nature. The children very well could have been present the day that militarized police violently invaded the park. We now have to explain to the children that the local police destroyed their community garden intended to share food for all. The love that our children have for the forest, her gardens, and her defenders is affronted by these violent actions by the police. Despite the police’s best efforts, we remain unafraid as we fight for a future free of police violence for our children and we remain steadfast in our work to end the cycles of violence in Weelaunee Forest.
From the beginning, this movement has called for justice in our forest and an end to police brutality. When the APF’s lease was up for a vote, the demands of thousands of residents to protect the forest and reject the APF’s plans went unmet. Since then, we have continued to fight for the protection of our forest and for this facility to be canceled altogether, and we have allies across the world standing in solidarity in our vision to stop cop city and defend the Atlanta forest. People have been inspired to stand in solidarity with us from across regions because they recognize that the training facility will have broad impacts on people near and far. What happens in the South, what happens in Atlanta, matters for people everywhere.
From banner drops to solidarity protests to tree sitting, allies from across the country have stood with the Atlanta community in resistance to this corporate-run police training base. Atlanta city council ought to stand with us too.
We call on public officials to stand in support of people exercising the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. As we witness these rights being actively violated by the Atlanta Police Department and DeKalb Police Department, we demand our public officials condemn the broad use of domestic terrorism charges against protestors and condemn use of chemical weapons against protestors. This “city too busy to hate,” the home of John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr., must stand up for the right to protest and engage in civil disobedience.
Despite the repression, the movement continues to have broad support and participation from local residents. On Sunday, December 17th, 200 people gathered at Brownwood Park for a march in East Atlanta to protest the repression of the movement to defend the Weelaunee Forest and stop Cop City. As the march snaked around the East Atlanta neighborhood, dozens of residents came outside, chanting, pumping fists, and joining in the march. Cars stopped, honking and cheering for the movement.
In 2021 this so-called safety training facility was brought to city council with little to no input from the predominantly Black residents surrounding the forest, who’s children and families have to hear the gunshots from the police shooting range that already exists in the forest. Now is the time to rectify this egregious erasure of voices and the omission of a democratic process on the way the plans for this facility have been carried out.
We anticipate your response, as we continue to organize with our neighbors to protect our communities and our forests.
The Weelaunee Coalition