South River Forest or Cop City in Atlanta: A Struggle for Survival

Atlanta is famously known as the “City in a Forest” due to its excellent tree coverage, making it one of the greenest cities in the United States. But in the suburbs, a battle is being fought between city planners, activists, and developers over controlling one precious piece of land: the South River Forest or more infamously known as Cop City.

This area has been the center of a long-standing fight between activists, city planners, and developers over who controls the land and what gets built there.

In this article, we’ll explore the complex controversy surrounding the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center or Cop City and the efforts by the Defend the Atlanta Forest network to preserve the South River Forest as the most significant protected green space in the city.

Forest River

What is “Cop City”?

For years, the Atlanta police have been training their officers in temporary facilities, but in 2021, they proposed a new facility to enhance their recruitment and retention efforts. The Atlanta Police Foundation, a non-profit that supports police initiatives through private-public partnerships, stated that the proposed $90 million for the 85-acre center would “reimagine law enforcement training and police/fire rescue community engagement.” The center would include a shooting range, mock city, and burn buildings, among other facilities.

Cop City

However, the proposal was met with immediate opposition, especially after a year of high-profile police brutality cases and strained community relations. James Woodall, a policy associate, expressed concern that the proposed center was a waste of taxpayer money. He stated, “We’re talking about spending millions of dollars on something that won’t address the issues we’re facing but will only benefit the wealthy.”

Why Defend the Atlanta Forest

This area is significant for keeping the stormwaters at bay. People like environmentalists, community groups, and other advocates are trying to turn it into the South River Forest – the biggest protected green space in the city.

The Defenders of the Forest

Activists part of the Defend the Atlanta Forest network have been showing up to protest the proposed $90-million police training campus for nearly two years now. They’ve been staging peaceful sit-ins in the forest and have even attracted supporters outside the state. Their goal, as stated on their website, is to protect the ecosystem and preserve one of the area’s last breeding grounds for amphibians.

According to the activists, their protest is about saving the forest and fighting against centuries of racialized violence and ecological destruction. They’re inspired by environmental activists worldwide, where deadly conflicts and targeted killings are too common. In 2021, Global Witness documented the killing of 200 environment and land defenders, mainly in Latin America.

To make their voices heard, the activists have set up campsites, launched petitions, held rallies, and hosted educational events. They’ve also admitted to vandalizing property belonging to the Police Foundation and contractors and disabling construction equipment.

The South River Forest

The heads of Atlanta are aiming to construct the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center for police and firefighter training in the South River Wilderness. But, not many are pleased. Activists from all over the US oppose the center because they wish to safeguard the natural setting and refer to it as “Cop City.” Unfortunately, things became violent on January 2023, when a rally occurred and Manuel Teran, a protester, was slain by law enforcement. He allegedly fired at and injured a Georgia state trooper before being killed.


Although all of this is making headlines, it is essential to remember that there are people who have resided in this area for years. The projected structure site is situated in DeKalb County, east of the city, close to Entrenchment Creek and nearby residential areas.

Related: What Is Reforestation, Vertical Forest, Environmental Volunteering Opportunities

The Controversy

The planned development of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in the South River Forest has sparked heated debate since the city council greenlighted it in September 2021. Many Atlantans felt like the process needed to be more transparent and that their opinions were ignored. Despite 70% of residents speaking out against the development during the 17 hours of public comment before the council’s vote, it still passed by a margin of 10-4.

The impact of destroying a big chunk of one of the last untouched forests in the city for this facility would be major and long-lasting. And it’s not just an environmental issue.

Author’s Note

The fight over the South River Forest in Atlanta is about much more than just protecting trees and wildlife. It’s about preserving the natural beauty and ecosystem of one of the last untouched forests in the city. It’s also about addressing racialized violence, ecological destruction, and a lack of transparency in city planning. The construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center has sparked heated debates. It has attracted nationwide attention from activists and concerned citizens passionate about preserving the South River Forest. 

The events of Jan. 18, 2023, when a protest ended in a violent altercation, demonstrate the importance and urgency of finding a solution that protects the environment and community while ensuring public safety. There is a need for further discussion and dialogue between all parties involved to find a resolution that satisfies the needs of everyone involved.

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