By the Sonic Defense Committee
The Atlanta Community Press Collective (ACPC) received the following submission on 3/7/2023. In the following statement, the authors describe the South River Music Festival that took place on the first and second day of the Week of Action and the police violence and repression directed toward festival goers on Sunday night. The opinions herein reflect those of the authors, and not ACPC.
After a day and a half of jubilant celebration at the South River Music Festival, the atmosphere suddenly shifted. The sound of roughly 30 police cruisers cut through Suede Cassidy’s jazz set. Police darted into the RC Field, some with guns drawn, and indiscriminately began to attack, tase, and arrest music festival attendees. One attendee received death threats from intruding officers. Another was beaten, concussed, and rushed to Grady Hospital. Another reported that an officer drew his side arm and fired over their head as they chased them into the woods. As the police pushed into the forest along the bike path, they were met with flying soup cans and fireworks, which kept them at bay.
A well-intentioned person jumped on the festival stage and yelled that the police were attacking their friend and everyone needed to help. At the sound of this, panic spread throughout the crowd and people began to rush to the exits. Police blocked exits and arrested, detained, or harassed those trying to leave. Festival goers quickly rallied to keep everyone together. They could be heard chanting “Stop Cop City!”, “GSP, murderers!”, and “The show must go on!” together as they returned to the stage.
Among those that remained at the music festival were elderly couples, toddlers and children, punk rockers, and college students. Festival organizers urged people to stay calm and to stick together. As the police held the exits and organized their plan to further disperse the crowd, getting their Bearcat stuck in the mud in the process, music festival attendees turned their attention to Faye Webster, who took the stage. As she played, small groups huddled together around bonfires to make plans, check in with each other, share food and information, and prepare themselves for what might come.
Acts from earlier in the day came on stage to play again as the sun finished setting over the horizon behind them. A cover of “Georgia, On My Mind” brought smiles to the crowd. After roughly two hours, dozens of police in riot gear and military vehicles slowly moved in toward the stage. The crowd bravely linked arms and chanted “Let us go home!” and “We have children!”
Police told festival goers they had three minutes to leave the festival under threat of arrest for domestic terrorism, to which festival goers shouted “No!”. After a brief negotiation with a handful of music festival attendees, the police agreed to give people 10 minutes to leave. All of the music festival attendees still present by that point in the night left safely together.
Saturday, March 4th, marked the beginning of the Week of Action to Stop Cop City and the first day of the weekend-long South River Music Festival. After the multi-jurisdictional raids on the forest in December resulting in domestic terrorism charges for those arressted and the murder of Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán in January, the stakes of the movement shifted radically. Following this, preconstruction in the Old Atlanta Prison farm began and a 24/7 police occupation of the area was established. Weekly potlucks, shows, and other events continued in the forest, but were mostly contained to the parking lot of Increnchment Creek Park. The Week of Action and South River Festival marked an ambitious plan by organizers to regain the initiative.
Roughly 500 people marched from a rally at Gresham Park starting at 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning into the contested area of Increnchment Creek Park, chanting joyfully in support of the movement and asserting their right to the forest. Upon arrival they were joined by dozens of people who began to construct a stage and setup speakers and other music equipment in the west corner of the RC field. The stage was decorated in two massive banners: one with turtles and butterflies and the Assata Shakur quote, “Love is our sword, truth is our compass.” The other read, “In the eyes of the State, all who resist white supremacy, colonialism, enviromental racism, gentrification, and police militarization are Domestic Terrorists.”
When the music festival began around 5:30 p.m. a couple hundred people had already laid out blankets in front of the stage. Tables were setup in the vicinity hosting an array of political zines, posters, and stickers. A grill churned out hotdogs and hamburgers, free of charge, to a growing line of attendees. A free arepa stand hosted homemade beet and jalapeno arepas.
By 10:00 p.m. around 800 people spread out across the RC Field. Between sets, people talked on the microphone about the movement, the land, and music. As local Atlanta hardcore band Symbiote started to play, an endless stream of people began diving off the stage, crowd-surfing over the sea of people. Zack Fox played next, and the stage itself was seized by the crowd, twerking and dancing as Zack recounted stories of drinking with his friends as a teenager in the very forest now slated for destruction, if the APF have their way. Chants of “ATL hoe!” and “Fuck Cop City” erupted randomly every 30 minutes or so. At this point it was impossible to imagine a meaningful police intervention. The crowd was made up of elderly people, university students, rappers, indigenous activists, toddlers and newborns, skaters–people of all imaginable Atlanta demographics.The night ended around 3:30 a.m. to sounds of house, techno, and drum & bass without any notable incident.
The festival continued the next day at 12:00 p.m. A rainbow colored bounce-house was erected adorned with a “Stop Cop City” banner. As the day went on more and more people arrived. By 4:00 p.m. roughly 1,000 people were scattered throughout the area, many of whom did not attend the festival the day prior. An impromptu soccer game began on the RC Field landing strip and a group of others practiced capoeira on the other end of the field. At around 5:00 p.m. a group of people gathered next to the bounce house for a rally announced to meet at the RC Field. This group grew to about 300 people, most of whom were masked and dressed in camo, and began to march around the festival to the cheers and praise of atteendees there. Michael Cera Palin finished their set and Sequoyah took the stage. Around 6:30, the police arrived. 35 people in total were handcuffed and detained. A festival attendee who witnessed some of the arrests confirmed that police then separated local residents from those with out-of-state IDs and released all but two of those from Georgia. The remaining 22 were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism.
The indiscriminate brutalization and arrest of festival goers suggests that law enforcement agencies will go to great lengths to paint the movement to Stop Cop City and Defend the Atlanta Forest as a criminal organization. It is, in fact, a broad decentralized movement with no ideological or organizational unity, only a shared goal. They believe that the movement is made up of bad actors who betray otherwise peaceful protestors, but the movement is not committed to any particular tactic, instead accepting the diversity of approaches to stop the project. The police claim that the movement is not made up of any Atlantans, while AUC students, local clergy & faith leaders, small businesses, and dozens of locally famous artists and musicians organize themselves within the movement. The police’s false narrative and heavy handed approach to dealing with opposition to the Cop City project is slowly starting to enclose them in. As the movement grows and city and state officials refuse to see the reality of what they are dealing with, their own authority is being brought into question. If they are not careful, the stakes of the movement will soon exceed the bounds of the forest and Cop City. In fact, that process may already have begun.