The Atlanta City Council voted early Tuesday morning to approve legislation to move forward with funding for a new public safety training center known as “Cop City.” The 11-4 vote came after more than 14 hours of public comment that stretched overnight — mostly from people in opposition.

Less than two weeks earlier, Atlanta government officials confirmed taxpayers will have to pay more than twice as much — $67 million — as their leaders originally said they would to build the training facility.

Despite a failed motion to kick the funding plan back to the council committee for debate, at around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, Atlanta’s elected officials made their stance clear. Only Council members Antonio Lewis (District 12), Liliana Bakhtiari (District 5), Jason Dozier (District 4), and Keisha Sean Waites (Post 3 At Large) voted against the legislation.

The vote has brought to a head years of protest against the facility. Hundreds of people filled the City Hall atrium and chamber, while even more stood in a line wrapped around the building.

Over 350 people signed up for public comment, including southwest Atlanta resident Robell Awake, who had never spoken at a council meeting before, but called out how building Cop City would harm Black people in Atlanta.

“I cannot believe I am standing here, pleading with you not to spend the tax dollars of a Black city, to tear down a forest in a Black neighborhood, to increase the policing and caging of more Black people. All this in a city with Black leadership. It breaks my heart,” he said.

The total construction bill is about $90 million. City leaders had said publicly that taxpayers only had to contribute about $30 million for the project, with the Atlanta Police Foundation covering the rest. But then, before last week’s finance committee meeting, the Atlanta Community Press Collective reported the city’s contribution could cost significantly more than that.

The training center funding ordinance would authorize the city to send $30 million from its general fund to the police foundation to pay for the center’s construction and allocate $1 million in public safety impact fees to build a gymnasium at the facility. It would also allow the mayor to enter into the lease-back agreement with the foundation.

The lease-back would come via a loan that the police foundation will take out to help pay for the center but that the city will pay back through annual $1.2 million installments over 30 years, for a total of $36 million.

Lakewood Heights resident Zach Murray came to City Hall to urge the council to spend money on more urgent priorities.

“It's unconscionable that they would spend $67 million to create a training center when the mayor isn't even fully funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund this year,” he said while waiting in line. “The people in Atlanta really don't want this.”

Residents fill the City Hall atrium as council hears public comment. (Madeline Thigpen/Worldacad Atlanta)

Murray underscored his point 10 hours later when his name was called for public comment in front of the council, demanding that funding go towards affordable housing for residents rather than policing.

At around 8 p.m., Post 1 At-Large Council member Michael Julian Bond responded to a comment challenging an assertion he made to the media that building Cop City was not a choice by the council, but their duty.

“If we — council members, who are fiduciaries of the city — don’t provide the employees with the equipment, the facilities, salaries, and benefits that they deserve, we run afoul of federal labor law,” Bond said, adding, “We are the fiduciaries that at this time are in place to make those decisions and to make sure that those facilities and benefits etc., are in place for the people that we employ that work for all of us.”

In response to Bond’s back-and-forth with speakers in the chamber, members of the gallery turned their backs to the councilman every time he spoke. After the audience turned their backs on Bond for a second time, District 5 Council member Bakhtiari motioned for a 15 minute recess to tell the gallery members that fellow representatives were considering moving the meeting into a committee room if disruptions continued.

Keleon Boatley was one of four speakers in favor of the new training facility. He joined the Atlanta Police Department in 2017.

“I had expected a department of this scale to be up to date with their training facility,” said Boatley, who was surprised when he learned recruits trained in an elementary school. “This profession can not be taught in a classroom, you have to go through scenarios.”

Though he voted in favor of funding, District 2 Council member Amir Farokhi proposed amendments that would, among other things, update requirements for police training programs and protect nearby greenspace.

Mechanicsville resident Rehana Lerandeau spoke out because she believes spending on police training and resources does not increase public safety. During her allotted two minutes, Lerandeau urged the council to return the money for Cop City to the people, specifically for life-affirming resources like public housing, robust public school systems, access to healthcare, and healthy food.

“This is draining budgets away from the things that we actually need, and it's actually going to make us less safe and put us in a position to be more violently targeted by the police,” Lerandeau said.

Madeline Thigpen is Worldacad Atlanta's criminal justice reporter.