Credit: Photo by Alex Boerner

It’s a cloudy Wednesday evening in Durham and around three dozen activists, community organizers, and concerned citizens are packed into a meeting room of the Main Library. A dry erase board is covered with assorted community announcements (National Lawyers Guild week of action, a labor protest in Charlotte, free markets in Durham and Carrboro). All eyes are on a screen’s black background and white capital letters, which reads “Block Cop City: November Weekend of Action”.

Cop City refers to the years-long struggle in Atlanta over the planned construction of a $95 million police training facility on 85 acres of forest in the southeastern part of the city. The City of Atlanta first approved plans for the facility in September 2021. The controversy has made headlines nationally and globally, notably when a protester was shot and killed on the property in January, when prosecutors charged protestors with both domestic terrorism and RICO violations, and again this September when the City of Atlanta refused to accept a 116,000-signature citizen petition calling for a referendum on the project.

Credit: City of Atlanta

The Wednesday meeting in Durham revolved around the question that seems to be at the heart of the broader Stop Cop City movement—how do you safely practice civil disobedience and protest at a time when people are picking up racketeering charges for distributing flyers

“I work for an environmental justice organization nationally and I’ve been following this for a while,” said Nina, an attendee at last Wednesday’s meeting. “The charges of domestic terrorism are disconcerting because it sets a dangerous precedent for organizers on the front line of environmental justice.”

The library meeting drew residents with varying perspectives and points of concern, including environmental justice, indigenous sovereignty and land use, and police brutality and overreach. The majority of participants requested that their likeness not be depicted and their names not be used, citing the nebulous, far-reaching nature of the September RICO indictment. The indictment, which ensnared 61 people, named May 25, 2020—the date of George Floyd’s death—as the start of the criminal conspiracy, potentially implicating anyone involved in the summer 2020 protests.

Credit: Photo from Pexels

Robin, the Durham event’s speaker, encouraged attendees to travel to Atlanta as part of an upcoming mass action from November 10th to 13th. Robin presented the upcoming non-violent action in the context of past resistance strategies, and what they saw as the broader, more dangerous implications of the project’s potential completion. 

“Cop City is part of a post-2020 restructuring of a military apparatus of the state to quell civil disobedience,” Robin said, standing in front of a slide depicting the training center’s shooting range and mock gas station. “The movement for defending life on earth is always a movement against the police. If you’re fighting to defend a forest, if you’re fighting to defend your home against eviction, your land against a pipeline, you’re always fighting against the police.”

Robin encouraged the audience to split up into small groups and talk about what drew them to the event, and their interest in forming an ‘affinity group’ to travel to Atlanta in November. Robin said that, due to the RICO charges, more people are aware of and supportive of the movement, but fewer people than ever are on the ground protesting out of fear of prosecution.

Attendees asked questions about lodging in Atlanta, about the likelihood of being charged with misdemeanors or felonies for peaceful protesting, and the availability of assistance with court costs from the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. Attendees listed cultural and political parallels between Atlanta and Durham as further motivation to become involved in the Stop Cop City movement. 

“A training facility is a big draw to police that see themselves at war with regular people,” Durham resident Alex said. “Durham and Atlanta both pose as progressive cities, it’s important to show that this legacy of real incredible revolutionary leaders does not lead to giving the police more money.”

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