Judge rules non-Atlanta residents can collect signatures for ‘Cop City’ petition
The Atlanta city council has already approved $31 million in public funding for the facility, with construction to begin next month.
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A federal judge on Thursday ruled in favor of DeKalb County residents who were seeking to collect signatures for a referendum on the controversial Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Howard Cohen’s ruling allows them and others living outside of the City of Atlanta to begin collecting signatures for a referendum petition aimed at placing the center on a November ballot. The ruling also allows for 60 additional days for signature collections once the clerk issues the new petitions.
“In this case, the City of Atlanta erected barriers in their language in the petition and we have, through the judge, through the legal process, are taking those barriers down so people’s First Amendment rights are being restored,” Scarlett Mayoralgo, an organizer said in response to the ruling. “The referendum is the people’s last resort in holding our elected officials accountable.”
Last month, critics of the center filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta, claiming city leaders are “illegally stonewalling” the process to add a referendum to an upcoming ballot. Opponents said Atlanta voters should decide if the facility should be built.
The lawsuit effort came after the Atlanta city council approved $31 million in public funding for the facility. The city will also be responsible for roughly $36 million for a 30-year lease agreement with the Atlanta Police Foundation. Opponents said Atlanta voters should decide if the facility should be built.
Construction is set to begin next month and, according to the city, will have a soft opening in December 2024.
Before a referendum can be added to a ballot, opponents will need signatures of 15% of the Atlanta electorate, roughly 70,000 people. The coalition for the referendum reported having more than 30,000 signatures as of Monday.
The facility will be on 85 acres of city-owned forest in DeKalb County which was once home to the old Atlanta prison farm. The Atlanta Police Foundation says firefighters and first responders will also use the site which will include a 12-acre emergency vehicle operations course and a mock city for real-world training.
Opponents of the facility worry about the militarization of police and what they claim is the destruction of one of the last green spaces in the area. Activists frequently occupied the site, living in tents and encampments in the forest.
Police cleared out the encampments multiple times. During one of the sweeps, protestor Manuel “Tortugita” Teran was killed during a shootout with Georgia State Patrol officers. An independent autopsy revealed that Teran’s body had 57 gunshot wounds. The incident was not recorded on body cameras, which led the Atlanta City Council to pass a resolution urging state lawmakers to mandate body cameras for state troopers.
While anyone can now help canvass for signatures, only Atlanta residents can sign the petitions and vote on the issue should it make it onto the November ballot.
Read the judge’s full order below:
- Atlanta City Council poised to approve training center funding
- ‘Stop Cop City’ Sen. Warnock interrupted during commencement address
- Atlanta mayor establishes Public Safety Training Center Community Task Force
- Protesters march to Police Foundation rallying against public safety training center
- Atlanta police say officers at training center were lawfully deputized
- EXCLUSIVE: GA Attorney General on what’s next for ‘Cop City’
- 23 face judge following protests at Atlanta Public Safety Training site
- Gov. Kemp calls violence at police training center ‘outrageous’
- Protest erupts after 23 arrested at site of the future Atlanta Training Facility
- Faith leaders speak out against Atlanta public safety training center
- Question of jurisdiction at planned training site raised at city council meeting
- DeKalb County Sheriff responds to protests at DeKalb County Jail
- 30 officers ‘permanently’ set to guard Atlanta police training facility
- Five arrested for domestic terrorism at ‘Cop City’ held without bond
- Hundreds pour into City Hall, rallying against Atlanta safety training center
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