Early Tuesday morning, the Atlanta Police Department (APD) responded to protests against militarization on Emory University’s Atlanta campus Quadrangle with further militarization. Emory students planned to camp out in front of the administration building to protest the development of a “Cop City” in the Weelaunee Forest, meant to be an 85-acre cop training facility where urban combat tactics would be enhanced with militarization.
Nobody was harmed during the peaceful quad walkout at 2 p.m., where students and faculty shared speeches, music and food in solidarity. However, “Stop Cop City” protesters wrote in an Instagram statement that the administration called 11 APD cars to the Quad at 1:20 a.m. This was a disproportionate response to the 20 to 25 peaceful Emory students fostering community and garnering opposition to the attack on human rights that is “Cop City,” and it’s not the first time the University has used law enforcement to escalate peaceful protests.
Since its inception, “Cop City” has devastated the Atlanta forest, threatened the displacement of DeKalb County’s Black population and resulted in the death of an unarmed Atlanta Forest Defender, Manuel Terán, who was known as “Tortuguita.” State officials claimed that Terán fired the first shot, but DeKalb County’s autopsy reports did not find gunpowder residue on their hands. The report also showed that Terán was shot 57 times by APD. Their death will go down in history as the first environmental activist killed by police officials since the inception of the U.S. environmental movement and cements the future of government-sanctioned police violence represented by Cop City.
When the APD and the Emory Police Department (EPD) stormed the Quad, armed, with threats to arrest, the protesters were unaware. Originally, an observer from Open Expression, an Emory University Senate committee meant to act as a liaison between protestors and the administration to maintain the legality and rights of orchestrated civil disobedience, expressed how the cops were threatening protestors with code of conduct violations. This act of police-led intervention echoes Emory’s involvement with Cop City; in ignoring their implicit role in furthering militarized police combat in metro Atlanta, Emory’s solution to dispersing the peaceful protesting was police force.
Evidently, this speaks to the Emory administration’s support of police as a “solution” to the ‘“problem” of protestors calling out the University’s defense of Cop City. If sending armed police is the administration’s response to peaceful protest, Emory inadvertently showed its support of police combat as a solution to Atlanta’s broader community concerns.
Students from Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Morehouse College (Ga.), Atlanta University Center, Agnes Scott (Ga.), and other Atlanta-based universities have joined in protest. In 2022, one third of Atlanta’s $700 million budget was allocated to the police department. Taxpayers have had no say in Cop City’s $90 million construction, of which they are expected to finance approximately 33%. The remaining funds come from private investors. Emory President Gregory L. Fenves is supporting organizations with stakes in Cop City’s development through his position sitting on the board of the Atlanta Committee for Progress (ACP). The ACP is headed by Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and supports stopping violence in Atlanta through “Cop City.” Everybody in Atlanta has a stake in the creation of this police facility and will be culpable for the police violence that will escalate as a result.
Emory University surgeon Dr. Douglas Murphy is currently on the Atlanta Police Foundation Board, which funds the construction of Cop City. Student protestors with Emory’s branch of “Stop Cop City,” alongside the Emory Wheel, have called for these influential figures to step down from these organizations. It goes without saying that Emory’s hands are covered in blood.
“Stop Cop City”’s press conference at 5 p.m. on April 25 was harrowing. Emboldened protestors stood before the Emory entrance next to seniors popping champagne bottles for their graduation photographs. While these seniors were merely harmless bystanders, the tone-deafness of this contrast emphasizes the obliviousness of the majority of Emory’s student body and faculty toward “Cop City.”
Jaanaki Radhakrishnan (26C), a leader of Emory’s Stop Cop City movement, said that the events of Tuesday morning “make it so unequivocally clear that this is an attack on our basic civil rights,” and EPD’s response “threatens the very concept of resistance that has led to almost every single act of progress in our society.” Those who were on the Quad when police stormed, student protestors, Atlanta’s Forest Defenders and the loved ones of Tortuguita understand that getting involved in the fight against “Cop City” is daunting. However, they recognize that the impending completed construction, and the infringement on the right to protest represented by the University response to Tuesday’s demonstration, is even more frightening.
We want to ask the Emory community to imagine your administration sending armed police in response to your peaceful attempts for change; Emory has set a precedent of counteracting civil discourse with intimidation and you should care.
It’s up to students to stand against this. As members of an elite institution, we are privileged in Atlanta. Our tuition pays Fenves and countless tenured faculty members who have a unique power to speak out. The protestors can’t do this alone. If 20 peaceful protestors force the University to respond with 11 police cars, it is clear that even 100 protestors will make a significant difference in the fight. Emory students have the privilege to be oblivious and ignorant to Cop City’s development, considering a majority do not live in Atlanta, much less attempt to interact with this city and its people. Yet by directly funding the administration, they have the responsibility to be educated and involved.
On Thursday at 6pm, Emory’s Stop Cop City movement will be holding a rally at Asbury Circle that is open to all students, faculty, staff and alumni. Before the end of the semester, follow @emorystopcopcity on Instagram. Stay connected with the movement through social media, discourse amongst your peers and carry the conversation back home, wherever that may be.
“When you come out here, there is no moment where you have to feel like this is a fight that you are in alone,” Akshay Padala (26C) said at the press conference. Speak out against Cop City, and you’ll be rewarded with food, music and community. Stay silent, and watch Atlanta become a dystopian police state. Members of the Emory community, beware that your silence comes at the cost of police violence, death and the University administration’s complicity. Resistance is multi-faceted and powerful, and silence is not an option.
Saanvi Nayar (26C) is from Marlboro, New Jersey. Sophia Peyser (25C) is from New York, New York.