A conceptual illustration of tree plantings at the main buildings of the proposed public safety training center. (Image by Atlanta Police Foundation.)

By John Ruch

Rev. Bernice A. King is calling for Atlanta’s controversial public safety training center to be moved to a new location, backing the nonviolent element of protests while criticizing government and corporate secrecy.

Rev. Bernice A. King.

In an April 10 open letter, the daughter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and CEO of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change urged City officials to “revisit the programming and design of the training center and to identify a more suitable location. Ignoring the calls of the community will only multiply the cries.”

King’s letter comes shortly before significant government meetings about the training center. The DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to hear an appeal of the training center’s land disturbance permit on April 12. And the Mayor’s Office announced that a new “task force” attempting to combine input on the training center and a larger South River Forest green space plan will meet on April 19. It is unclear if the task force meeting will be open to the public, as the Mayor’s Office has not responded to such questions and there was no legal notice posted on the Atlanta Municipal Clerk’s website as of April 11.

The private Atlanta Police Foundation’s (APF) plan for the training center on a secretly selected, City-owned site in unincorporated DeKalb has been enormously controversial since it was approved by the City Council in 2021 over a chorus of public opposition. The project has become a target of the Defend the Atlanta Forest protest movement, a leaderless effort encompassing a wide variety of legal and illegal tactics. Protest controversy – including controversial domestic terrorism charges against dozens of people – boiled over with the January police killing of protester Manuel Esteban “Tortuguita” Paez Teran after the protester allegedly shot a state trooper.

Meanwhile, the planning has remained largely secret in a process beset with controversy. An advisory committee still touted as effective by the Mayor’s Office this week has ceased meeting in recent months amid controversies over the identity of members and the ethics of APF gift-giving, among other issues. The new task force is presented as having a bigger-picture approach but also has fundamental questions about its transparency and authority. The project’s supposed $90 million budget remains secret, with the APF claiming unnamed corporate and philanthropic donors will cover much of the tab.

King’s letter, titled “Atlanta: A Call to Higher Ground,” alludes to these various controversies and issues.

“On the 55th anniversary year of the assassination of my father, Atlanta is the epicenter of campaigns for environmental protection and against police militarization,” King wrote.

She described Atlanta as divided in a “disheartening dichotomy of institutions against individuals and corporations against communities. Reasoned discourse for the collective good is hampered by insidious thirsts for power, control, and unilateral triumph. We are caught in a spiral of chaos, confusion, and confrontation, with a tale of two cities at odds about what ails us and what remedies will cure us.”

Quoting her father on themes of prioritizing justice and power-sharing, King called for genuine police reform and better public process. “Those opposing the facility, its location, and forest destruction lack power participation,” she wrote. “Our city, the corporations and institutions, and those with more resources have power participation, but marginalized communities experiencing the trauma of racism, police brutality, and economic and environmental disparities do not.”

King thanked nonviolent protesters while saying some protests were “infiltrated with anarchy” and violence that must be rejected. She also called on the corporate community to live up to its many equity pledges dating to 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, and for the City to conduct a public planning process, police reform and trust-building.

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  1. Unmentioned is this: IF the citizens of Atlanta were to vote on this issue, the training center would have been built already. External activists would not win this one. For Bernice to tie this issue to “the 55th anniversary” is just pandering for donations.

  2. the city ought to be able to explain why the GA Public Safety Training Center, less than an hour from Atlanta, is not sufficient. Also they need to explain why a regional training center with cost/benefit sharing with adjacent jurisdictions isn’t feasible.

  3. A silly statement from an increasingly irrelevant individual. Smacks of desperation to be in the headlines and an obvious fundraising ploy. This person and her organization are increasingly on the outs with leftists and their benefactors, as the new left’s preferred vehicle for social change is violent revolution.

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