In recent weeks, New Yorkers have been perplexed by Atlanta Police Department (APD) hiring advertisements plastered throughout the MTA announcing recruiting events in New York City.
On Saturday afternoon, one of those events took place at the New York Hilton Midtown. A group of around 100 protestors chanting “From ATL to NYC, stop Cop City!” gathered on the sidewalk outside the hotel in opposition to the interstate recruitment.
The demonstration drew a wide variety of participants. An elderly man wearing a pro-Palestinian “Globalize the Intifada” shirt marched alongside a young woman with a red zebra-print tank top; a young protester wearing a cropped T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Close Rikers Now! No More Jails!” handed out copies of a socialist newspaper, while the Rude Mechanical Orchestra’s marching percussionists — clad in green caps, bandanas and socks — invigorated the rally.
Under the hard glint of looming Midtown skyscrapers, protestors chanted “Atlanta PD has blood on their hands!” to the beat of drums, tambourines, and even spoons being struck together. Slogans such as “COP CITY WILL NEVER BE BUILT” and “APD, NYPD THE SAME KIND OF KILLERS” were scrawled on the sidewalks in chalk.
This isn’t the first time the APD recruited in New York City; it held recruiting events here in 2017 and 2019 (when it also recruited in Puerto Rico). Since fall 2022, the APD has held recruiting events in Birmingham, Alabama; Columbia, South Carolina, Orlando, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit and here. In October, it will hold events in St. Louis and Miami. On its hiring page, the APD advertises new police officer annual starting pay ranging from roughly $49,000 to $72,000.
Saturday’s protest — organized by a coalition of activist groups including Black Alliance for Peace NYC, Weelaunee Defense Society, Unity & Struggle, Palestinian Youth Movement and Dare to Struggle — was specifically directed at the Atlanta Police Department’s hiring event. However, it is also part of the broader “Stop Cop City” movement, an ongoing struggle of the past two years to stop Atlanta from building of the country’s largest police-training facility on the country’s largest urban forest.
Referred to by protesters as “Cop City,” the facility will include several shooting ranges, a helicopter-landing base, explosives training and an entire mock city. The Atlanta Police Department intends to recruit 43% of the planned facility’s trainees from out-of-state police departments.
In 2021, Atlanta City Council approved a plan to build the training facility in the South River/Weelaunee Forest in southeast Atlanta’s Dekalb County. For a year and a half, environmentalist and police abolitionist protesters camped out in the forest in an act of protest occupation. They were portrayed as “outside agitators” by both city and state officials, slapped with unfounded domestic terrorism charges and held in jail without bail.
During a raid on the morning of January 18, Georgia State Police shot and killed 26-year-old protester Manuel Paez Terán, known as “Tortuguita,” when they were in their tent with their hands raised. Tortuguita was the first environmental activist to be killed by police in U.S. history, as well as the first protester killed by U.S. police since the 1970s Black Panther and Kent State assassinations.
Tortuguita’s death has not been forgotten by Stop Cop City protesters. At the rally on Saturday, multiple signs and banners referenced the slain forest defender. Demonstrators chanted “Viva, viva, Tortuguita!” — a common slogan of the movement — as well as “Tortuguita we remember; Eric Garner we remember!,” connecting the murder of Tortuguita to the 2014 killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
“You have the Atlanta police here [in New York], trying to recruit. And I think what it boils down to is that policing actually is not what it claims to be,” a protester who requested to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal told The Indypendent. “Cop City in Atlanta doesn’t just affect the people in Atlanta, it doesn’t just affect the forest; it’s actually part of a nationwide attempt to bolster the reputation of the police. And that’s something that I don’t think is actually helpful. I think that we should be building alternatives and abolishing the police.”
Demonstrators also emphasized the wide range of issues that the Stop Cop City movement encompasses. One protester, Derek, pointed out, “There’s intersectionality with everything. I’ve been in the LGBTQ+ activism scene for my whole teenage and adult life, and for example, Black trans people right now face a lot of problems with law enforcement.”
Another protester, Wendy, highlighted the environmental concerns of the project. “There’s this huge forest in the outskirts of Atlanta that they’re cutting down. In the same way, they’ve done that with the parks here, like the East River Park. [Those in power] look at land as just something yet to be developed; they tend to look at everything as just a resource to be exploited.”
Five activists spoke at the event, all highlighting the weight of the issue at hand. A speaker for Palestinian Youth Movement, Raphael, emphasized the connections between Atlanta, New York and Israel. Mayor Eric Adams visited Israel in what Raphael calls a “propaganda” trip just last week; Georgia police have been sent to Israel for training, and it is widely rumored that Israel Defense Forces will train at the new Atlanta facility through the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange program.
A protestor who has been part of direct action in the Weelaunee Forest, gave an impassioned speech, saying, “The pigs who murdered Tortuguita are inside this building!” Flipping the language used to frame protesters, they continued, “There are domestic terrorists inside this building! There are outside agitators inside this building!”
After the speeches, protestors moved from the sidewalk into the front entryway of the Hilton. A demonstrator affiliated with Reverend Billy’s Stop Shopping Choir led the group in song. He stood right up to the line of around two dozen cops and added a rhythmic sway to a chant, his voice ringing in the Hilton entryway’s acoustics. “Ohhh-whoa, APD out of NYC!” he belted out.
“You could’ve been a school teacher! You could’ve been a librarian!” another protester shouted at the NYPD officers crowding against them.
Around 2:30, a Hilton worker from with a megaphone told protesters to exit hotel’s premises. The police then pushed the demonstrators back out into the street and set up a police barricade in front of the hotel’s entryway while protest continued for around half an hour.
The rally’s organizers updated attendees about the upcoming deadline for the Stop Cop City referendum. The Atlanta City Council moved to further fund Cop City on June 6 of this year — this time voting up the addition of $30,000 to the facility’s budget. Organizers launched a referendum petition effort the following day. They have successfully collected over 100,000 signatures, while Atlanta requires 70,000 in order to qualify a ballot initiative. However, city officials have recently announced an onerous signature verification process that seeks to delegitimize the petition, say Stop Cop City advocates.
Regarding the controversies with the referendum effort, an organizer with Black Alliance for Peace NYC commented, “What we’re here to do is amplify what the people of Atlanta want. They don’t want Cop City at all. They want to save the Weelaunee Forest, and they want to invest in their city.”
“More people voted and signed their name on the petition than voted for the current mayor [of Atlanta, Andre Dickens],” the organizer, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Indy.
“Everything is moves and counter moves, and the Atlanta protesters are one step ahead of the City. When the City Council voted to fund Cop City, [organizers] immediately announced the referendum. And the City is now scrambling trying to delegitimize the petition, which is going to make history if it does pass,” she continued. “I’m incredibly proud to stand in solidarity with the people of Atlanta. And I commend them for taking a multiplicity of approaches to stop this problem. Because it’s obvious the politicians don’t care about democracy.”