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Atlanta protesters want city council to vote against funding police training center

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Atlanta today, protesters gathered at city hall as the city council there considers funding a controversial police training facility. Earlier this year, state troopers killed a protester while clearing the construction site for the facility. Other protesters who called the project Cop City have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. Well, with us now is Rahul Bali with member station WABE. He is inside Atlanta City Hall. Hey there, Rahul.

RAHUL BALI, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey, what's the scene there? What can you see?

BALI: So right now, we're in the middle of hours of public comments in front of the city council. Hundreds of protesters have filled the council chambers along with this indoor courtyard. This indoor courtyard has a big screen. And, you know, every time someone speaks against what they call Cop City, you hear cheers. You once in a while will hear a chant, stop Cop City. That's what they've named the training center. City offices have been closed - all the, you know, offices here. The only thing that's open is just the chambers. There's also a heavier-than-normal police presence for council meetings when I come down here. We expect this to last well into the night. More than 350 have already signed up, and we're hearing more may be allowed to sign up.

KELLY: Huh. So you're going to be there for a while. You know, we have been reporting on this training facility for a while. It has been controversial for months. Help me just understand exactly what it is meant to be.

BALI: So it's meant to be a state-of-the-art law enforcement facility. That's what the supporters call it. It's 85 acres of forested land owned by the city of Atlanta. It's going to have, like, a vehicle driving course and a firing range. It's also meant to train firefighters and first responders with, like, burn buildings, for example. Total cost about $90 million - a third of it will come from the nonprofit Police Foundation. What the city council is voting on today is the rest of that money. Building the facility was approved about two years ago, right around the time of a spike in crime during COVID. But since, there's been a lot of protests. They've been growing. As you mentioned, one protester was killed by state troopers at the site. That is still under investigation. Others have been arrested, charged with domestic terrorism for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails and damaging equipment on the site.

KELLY: So are there specific demands, specific concerns you're hearing about at the city council meeting today?

BALI: Well, the general demand by opponents is don't build it. Don't fund it. You know, the concerns - there's a range of concerns. And one of those is that this training center would be part of militarizing police. That's what Gary Spencer, senior counsel at the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARY SPENCER: The policing promoted by this facility will not make Atlanta safer. In fact, it will put our communities, particularly our Black and brown communities, in significant danger.

BALI: There are environmental concerns because this is an urban forested area in the Atlanta area. Then there are people saying, you know what? This $90 Million can be spent on something else. And by the way, those who support it - I should mention the supporters, they're saying that you know what, law enforcement and firefighters need up-to-date facilities. They're really in bad shape and that this may actually save money by doing it this way.

KELLY: That is Rahul Bali with WABE, reporting from Atlanta City Hall. Thanks Rahul.

BALI: Great to be on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rahul Bali