Stop Cop City activists launch referendum campaign to cancel lease

The Atlanta City Council might have approved funding for the planed Public Safety Training Center early Tuesday morning, but the fight is far from over.

On Wednesday morning, a group of organizations and activists under the Stop Cop City umbrella announced plans to hold a referendum campaign to overturn the 2021 lease between the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) for 381 acres of land in the South River Forest upon which the Foundation intends to build the $90 million center.

At a press conference on the steps of City Hall, Nsé Ufot, a community organizer and graduate of Benjamin E. Mays High School in Southwest Atlanta, introduced the referendum by saying the coalition had gathered today “to talk about the future of Atlanta, how decisions get made and the kind of vision that [Atlantans] have for ourselves and communities.”

The announcement comes just a day after the City Council passed a $67 million funding package for the training center, more commonly known as Cop City. Prior to the bill, the 16-member council heard nearly 15 hours of public comment, almost entirely against funding for the facility. Despite the record-breaking turnout opposing the funding, the package passed by an 11-4 margin. Ufot described the public comment session as, “an extraordinary number of Atlantans [coming] out to address their representatives on the City Council and [going] on the record to voice their displeasure about Cop City.”

Kamau Franklin, of Community Movement Builders, explained the referendum mechanism as “a voice to let the people decide whether to let there be a Cop City.”

Stop Cop City activists face a long and challenging road to bring the referendum to the ballot.

Mariah Parker, labor organizer and former Athens-Clarke County commissioner, delivered the referendum paperwork to the Office of the Municipal Clerk before the press conference began. The clerk has seven days to approve the referendum petition. Once approved, organizers will have 60 days to reach their goal of 75,000 valid signatures.

To be valid, the signatures must come from city of Atlanta residents who were registered to vote at the time of the last election. Organizers will collect additional signatures in anticipation of a potential fight against the referendum by Mayor Andre Dickens’ administration, which will likely bring legal challenges against ineligible or invalid signatures.

Once organizers collect the required number of signatures, City Council will have 50 days to determine the validity of the petition. If the council validates the petition, the referendum question will appear on the ballot Nov. 7, 2023. Franklin clarified that neither the City Council nor the Municipal Clerk have the authority to stop the referendum from moving forward; their roles in the process are strictly administrative.

“When people find out about Cop City, they are nervous, and they are anxious. They are rightfully mistrustful of their elected officials.”

Scarlett Mayoralgo

A legal memo by Alex Joseph, who previously wrote the legal analysis arguing the City Council can cancel the training center lease at any time, cites a 2022 referendum case in Camden County, Ga., where opponents of a proposed spaceport were able to bring the measure to ballot and defeated the project by a 72%-28% margin.

Organizers are hopeful about their chances of collecting signatures.

“When people find out about Cop City, they are nervous, and they are anxious, said Scarlett Mayoralgo of Georgia Working Families’ Power, the 501c4 partner to Georgia Working Families’ Party. “They are rightfully mistrustful of their elected officials.”

Mayoralgo said there would be a “robust canvassing operation…activating Atlantans around the issue.”

Organizers will operate campaign hubs on both the east and west side of the city, said Franklin. To date, much of the canvassing effort against Cop City has centered around the neighborhoods closest to the facility on the east side of the city. Moving forward, the canvassing efforts from both hubs will be a team effort between grassroots organizers and professional organizations like Working Family’s Power and Movement for Black Lives, he said.

The referendum brings with it the potential to temporarily halt construction efforts for the training center. The coalition believes it has the right to an injunction against the APF to halt construction while signatures for the referendum are gathered, Franklin said, adding that a second injunction will be filed for after the signatures are collected to ensure construction cannot continue until after the November referendum is decided by Atlanta voters.

The coalition running the referendum campaign also announced its new website,, where interested residents can find more information about the referendum, ways to get involved and a sign-up form to have the referendum petition mailed directly to them.

Local, independent journalism takes time and resources. If you have the capacity, please consider becoming a subscriber or making a one-time contribution to keep ACPC running. Donate to ACPC here.

2 responses to “Stop Cop City activists launch referendum campaign to cancel lease”

  1. […] For updates on the latest developments: […]

  2. […] The referendum petition seeks to overturn the 2021 lease of the former Old Atlanta Prison Farm site to the Atlanta Police Foundation for the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, more commonly known as Cop City and has the support of a broad swath of Atlantans, including Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. “We need to allow the people of the City of Atlanta… to be able to vote on the public safety training facility,” King said in a video interview with NowThis.  […]

Leave a Reply