Atlanta residents say they’ve collected more than 116,000 signatures on a petition to put a controversial police training facility up for a vote.
Those signatures are far more than the approximately 70,000 needed to force a referendum. But on Monday, city officials said they might dismiss the petition.
The Atlanta Public Safety Training Center is an 85-acre, $90 million police training facility planned for construction in an Atlanta forest. The proposal, called “Cop City” by critics, has drawn fierce opposition for its projected cost, environmental footprint, and impact on policing in the city. Police and prosecutors have taken an aggressive stance of their own, arresting protesters en masse and charging more than 60 activists with racketeering last week. Some of the defendants in the RICO case are accused of conspiracy on the basis of them handing out fliers, running a bail fund, or (in one case) acting as a legal observer at a protest.
On Monday, another plan to block the facility also hit a legal roadblock.
Local law allows Atlanta residents to put decisions up for a referendum, with signatures from 15 percent of all registered voters in the last municipal election. For opponents of Cop City, that meant gathering signatures from more than 70,000 Atlantans on a petition.
Even the process of launching a petition was contentious, with attorneys for Atlanta and Georgia arguing against the campaign, describing it to a judge as “futile,” and “invalid.” Atlanta officials also argued that residents of DeKalb County should not be allowed to participate in the petition. (Most of Atlanta is located in Fulton County, while DeKalb makes up approximately 10 percent of the city.) DeKalb County residents successfully sued for inclusion on the petition this summer, noting that the facility would be built in their county.
That lawsuit extended the deadline for signature collection until September 23. Atlanta officials appealed the extension and received a preliminary stay from a judge this month. The judge’s ruling, while not final, returned the deadline to its original date of August 21.
Those clashing deadlines became clear on Monday when activists gathered at Atlanta City Hall to deliver what they said were more than 116,000 signatures—far more than required to put Cop City’s construction on the ballot in November.
Shortly after the rally on City Hall steps, attorneys for the city released a memo slamming activists’ “decision not to comply with the August 21 statutory deadline for submitting their petition.” The memo said the city is not obligated to accept the petition. The city is awaiting further instruction from the courts, its lawyers wrote in the memo.
The Vote To Stop Cop City Coalition, which is coordinating the petition process, panned the decision as un-democratic.
“This is yet another disgraceful push by the city to stonewall democracy, showing that Mayor [Andre] Dickens and the City of Atlanta fear the power of their constituents,” the organization said in a statement. “The City was notified on Thursday of our intention to submit, yet was too cowardly to release any response, or even respond to our email, until after we arrived—even their press conference is virtual to ensure the people cannot attend. Shame on the City for playing games with the sweat, hard work, and demands of 116,000 of their constituents.”
The coalition has previously tried submitting signatures, including before the Aug. 21 deadline, only to meet other legal obstacles. On Aug. 20, activists called off plans to submit approximately 100,000 signatures, after Atlanta officials announced that they would examine the petition with signature-verification tools. Civil rights groups criticized the verification process as unscientific, and claimed it risked disenfranchising legitimate voters.