Crime has long been at the center of local politics and Atlanta’s growing population only amplifies the issue. Atlanta Police Department data shows crime jumped by 60 percent from 2019 to 2020 — then just slightly in 2021. Now, this year, the city is outpacing last year’s numbers. Community activist Shar Bates believes Atlanta’s economic divide has created more crimes of opportunity. In a 2018 news story, Bloomberg reported Atlanta has the worst income inequality in the country with a mere 4 percent growth rate from poverty. It is apparent that crime is a growing issue, but some Atlanta residents question if policing is the answer.
The value of police is evident and the intention of policing is pure. However, modern-day policing has created moral, economic, and political qualms. The topic of policing has become more contentious in the modern-day social climate and Atlanta‘s recent decision to build The Institute for Social Justice and Public Safety Training is at the center of it all.
The Institute for Social Justice and Public Safety Training is a proposed $90 million training facility for the Atlanta Police Department and firefighters, dubbed “Cop City” by activists. The $90 million dollar investment spans over 85 acres of Atlanta green space in DeKalb County’s South River Forest. It aims to further the training of Atlanta police officers by instructing them in a mock environment.
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Atlanta City Council Votes
The Atlanta City Council in a 10-4 vote approved the construction of the facility after 17 hours of public comments in which 70% of citizens heard were not in favor of the facility.
Supporters and protesters make compelling arguments on both sides of the spectrum which can be narrowed down into three main arguments: crime, over-policing, and use of green space.
Philip Bump, a Washington Post national columnist, argues that over the past 60 years an increase in police spending has not meant a decrease in crime, “More spending in a year hasn’t significantly correlated to less crime or to more crime. For violent crime, in fact, the correlation between changes in crime rates and spending per person in 2018 dollars is almost zero.” Protestors make a strong argument that crime is a sociological issue solved with income equity, education, and healthcare; not policing. Further, they argue that the facility will only create over-policing and disproportionately affect people of color.
“To Protect and To Serve.” This phrase functions as both the slogan and oath for the officers that we see every day. Policing in America was founded in the 1800s and was staffed with volunteers who wanted to evade military service. Philadelphia created the first-day watch in 1833 and New York instituted a day watch in 1844 as a supplement to its new municipal police force.
What is Over-Policing?
Over-policing is a modern term that means to police excessively, such as by maintaining a significant police presence or by responding aggressively to minor offenses. It is typically used with an intersection of race in America. In America, there is a history of policing being utilized to continue control and modernize slavery. The fourteenth amendment abolished slavery except in instances of punishment by the law, creating the prison pipeline for African- American people. Daanika Gordon, an assistant professor of sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, is finding that “predominantly Black neighborhoods are simultaneously over-policed when it comes to surveillance and social control, and under-policed when it comes to emergency services.” Gordon’s central contention argues that facilities such as Atlanta’s Cop City could help increase the over-policing of African-American communities.
Green Space Controversy
The land acquired to build Cop City also remains problematic — it sits on the remains of a prison farm. Prison farms were institutions developed and owned by states that housed plantations and prisons on the same land. Inmates would give free labor under the impression it could lessen their sentence; most served life for crimes they never committed or unfair offenses. Prison farms are an example of how policing has been used against Black people and the policing facility being built on top of it doesn’t serve as a memorial.
While policing is at the forefront of the issue, there is also an environmental rallying cry behind the controversy. Cop City is projected to use 85 acres of Atlanta green space. Environmental activists have built tree homes in the South River Forest boycotting the construction of the facility. Locals report the area has been imperative in preventing stormwater flooding. There is also a growing concern about the decrease in air quality because of obsessive fire and weapons training along with the wide-scale deforestation that would be needed to begin.
What Can You Do?
Crime is a growing concern in the Atlanta area and whether more policing is the solution remains up for debate. Protecting Atlanta green space will always be a concern, but at the expense of innovation, is it worth it? As Atlantans, these are the questions we should be answering for ourselves and the questions we should be engaging each other in. The fight against Cop City is far from over, so get involved and stay tuned for more developments!