Since Summer of 2021 there has been an active effort to prevent the development of the South River Forest. This effort is intersectional and has been supported by a wide variety of groups for several reasons.
SOME HISTORIC BACKGROUND
The South River Forest is historically one of the regions where the Mvskoke people lived prior to their forced removal from the land. Following that the land was used for a plantation that was worked by enslaved peoples. Then, after the civil war, it was the site of one of the first transitions from chattel slavery to prison slavery. The prison on the land was where residents of the surrounding areas were detained and pressed into forced farm labor.
Once the prison was closed, the South River Forest was treated as a dumping ground. When Atlanta’s first public library was destroyed, pieces were left on the land, dead zoo animals were buried on the land, and the old structures of the prison fell into ruin. As the forest sits at the base of Atlanta’s water shed, the combination of the misuse of the land, the pollution of Atlanta, and the mistreatment of the land left the water and soil badly contaminated.
The South River Forest now houses Intrenchment Creek Park, the Atlanta Radio Control Club, a private police officer shooting range, and a system of trails that are used by the community.
Now, two entities are planning to destroy the forest for their own purposes. One is Blackhall Studios, which plans to build an enormous sound stage, and the other is the Atlanta Police Department, which wants to build a facility that has become colloquially known as “Cop City.”
The surrounding neighborhoods are primarily populated by lower-income residents, so the construction of the Blackhall sound stage will result in gentrification that will displace the local residents.
The construction of Cop City has wide ranging implications. It is meant to be an urban warfare training facility for the region and would drive militarization of police across the southeast. Its construction will create a precedent for urban warfare training facilities across the United States and the world. We have historical precendence of this as seen with the School of the Americas. https://www.grunge.com/338237/the-messed-up-history-of-the-school-of-the-americas/
All of this comes before even considering the ecological and environmental relevence of protecting this forest. The South River Forest is one of the largest urban forests in the United States. It is populated by diverse species such as coyotes and beavers, and is home to multiple trees that are centuries old.
FOREST OCCUPATION AND DEFENSE
Occupation began in late 2021 with a camp on the Blackhall side of the forest. It was built by those who we will call “forest defenders” for the rest of this document. This includes everyone from those sitting in the trees, to the local public. These people are comrades, but many of us do not even know each other. Entities within this broad term act autonomously of one another, even if they have similar goals.
Following the eviction of the original camp, a new camp was established on the side of the forest designated for the building of Cop City. Over the course of several weeks, two tree-sits were built. As the two tree sits on the Cop City side of the forest were being completed, construction began.
Construction started on January 18th, 2022. Early in the morning, forest defenders noticed the presence of surveyors touring the forest. We had been alerted that there were going to be soil tests in order to prepare for building, so we were unsurprised. We also knew that the APD hadn’t acquired the appropriate permits to remove trees from the forest, which has been confirmed by the Dekalb Land Development manager. We were also unsurprised by the arrival of a bulldozer.
The workers used the bulldozer to rip new paths through the forest, destroying countless trees and saplings. Their plan was to create these new paths so that they could bring in their soil borer. Forest defenders converged on the bulldozer, and safely escorted the workers out of the forest. Afterwards, the windows of the bulldozer were smashed.
Police came to the forest to stop the forest defenders. Some retreated while others remained. A police officer pointed a gun at one forest defender, who was subsequently detained but not arrested. Construction didn’t resume for the rest of the week, giving forest defenders time to prepare. During this time, a few visitors came to the forest including a state surveyor, but things remained largely quiet.
THIS PAST WEEK OF ACTION
On Monday the 24th, a new group of construction workers came to the forest including surveyors and underground utility workers. Police escorted these workers through the forest while forest defenders played cat and mouse with them. Undercover cops surrounded the forest intimidating those who would park nearby. As such, outside support showed up, but not enmasse.
On Tuesday the 25th, surveyors, a bulldozer, and a police escort arrived in the morning. Yet again, the bulldozer was used to destroy trees. It is important to note that this activity was still illegal due to the lack of permits. Thankfully, work was delayed by barricades and a lack of survey markers. Forest defenders played cat and mouse, and were pursued by the police. Two people were detained and served criminal trespass warnings, but not arrested.
That night, a meeting was called. Two protests were planned: a “March for the Forest” for Friday the 28th, and another for two weeks from the date of the meeting. Community supporters coordinated with each other in order to ensure that everyone would know where to go. With a plan in place, we went into the next day more confident.
On Wednesday the 26th, forest defenders managed to block the bulldozers. The Atlanta Police Department and the Dekalb Police Department collaborated in pursuing them. This time the police brought ATVs that they could use to chase people, and a drone for surveillance. Tools were brought to destroy the barricades, and all but one were destroyed. Soil bores were successfully taken, but there were no detentions or arrests.
On Thursday the 27th, workers and police were on-site, dismantling barricades and placing survey stakes. The cat and mouse continued.
On Friday the 28th, 60+ forest defenders and community members gathered to march together. This group marched through the Intrenchment Creek Park side of the forest, took the streets for a time, then entered the forest. Forest defenders confronted cops and workers operating boring machinery. An estimated 4-6 forest defenders were arrested, and a noise demo was organized to support them from inside.
All in all, we are humbled by the love and support of our communities. Many have volunteered their time and talents to help defend the forest. We are holding out, but there is still more that we can and will do.
At this point we are in need of two main things: More people to help support tree sits and defend the forest from destruction, and legal attempts to delay construction. Please, join us, support us, and protect your community!
Love and Rage,
The Forest Animals
-Submitted anonymously over email