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Georgia State Students Demand The University Denounce Cop City

Above photo: Protesters gathered outside of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta in protest of Cop City as the clear cutting of trees began on March 31, 2023. Reuters/Cheney Orr.

End carceral investments.

“GSU’s participation in prison industrial complex expansion raises concerns about troubling duplicity.”

To President Brian Blake & the Board of Trustees:

We, the Georgia State University Student Coalition Against Policing & Militarism, write this letter to express our solidarity with the Stop Cop City movement. We demand that the university end its sprawling investments in carceral projects, including, but not limited to, Cop City.

The university heavily invests in policing, surveillance, and other forms of state violence that disproportionately impact racially-oppressed students, both historically and in our contemporary time, who comprise most of the school’s population. Further, while the institution increases funding for GSU Police Department (GSUPD), which enacts racialized violence against its students, departments face budget cuts that reduce the educational capacity of the university.

As an institution that prides itself on high Black student graduation rates and having one of the most diverse student bodies in the country, GSU’s participation in prison industrial complex expansion raises concerns about troubling duplicity.

GSU has several ties to the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), which functions as a covert conduit for corporate, nonprofit, and university donations to further boost already-inflated police budgets while sidestepping public oversight. APF ranks among the largest police foundations in the country and has exploited this lack of transparency to disproportionately channel resources and funding towards militarization and surveillance. One of these programs, Operation Shield, is notorious for making Atlanta the most heavily-surveilled city in the U.S.—a stat that the construction of Cop City will surely exacerbate.

GSU has not only provided access to many surveillance devices to Operation Shield, which allows Atlanta police to monitor footage, but also recently vowed to significantly increase surveillance cameras, police presence, and funding. The Andrew Young School’s Criminal Justice Department also has multiple connections to local law enforcement through research and other partnerships, and has financially sponsored at least one APF event as a department.

Additionally, GSU started the Atlanta Police Leadership Institute (APLI) with APF and the Atlanta Police Department (APD), which APF stated is “part of a broader initiative that APF and APD are working diligently to realize: a city and statewide regional Public Safety Training Center,” according to an email in response to summer 2020 protests. This direct connection between APLI and Cop City emerged almost a full year before the center was publicly announced, raising heightened concerns given APLI’s desire to facilitate “strategic placements in other city departments,” which parallels the 43 percent of out-of-state trainees anticipated for Cop City.

Additionally, GSU President M. Brian Blake sits on the Atlanta Committee for Progress (ACP) board, which expressed its unequivocal support for Cop City the very same day it was announced publicly. Further, the ACP chair at the time, Alex Taylor, agreed to lead the capital campaign for $60 million needed in private funding for the facility. This public-private partnership that convenes university, business, and city leaders has previously funded Operation Shield and has historically been a clear driver of “public safety,” which by its track record of investment appears to be defined by police, prisons, and punishment. Blake’s involvement with ACP is deeply concerning considering its commitment to Cop City, as well as other carceral projects. His membership on this governing body alone shows significant investment in Cop City and the expansion of the PIC. Many of the primary donors of APF and other police foundations are represented on both the ACP and APF boards.

The administration’s continued interests in surveillance and policing constitutes an investment in reactionary forces. Police as an institution and paradigm of security are, by design, only able to react in situations of campus security; they do not prevent crime. Further training or more technology does not significantly alter the basic premise of policing. Alternatively, investing in meeting the basic needs of GSU students, faculty, employees, and unhoused neighbors will proactively make the GSU campus safer and more conducive to learning. This would look like increasing wages, supportive housing, health insurance, mental health support, and food security for all who interact with the institution. It will require fostering a genuine relationship between students, faculty, administration, and our unhoused neighbors while using the institution’s power to demand stable housing and basic needs for all. Only then will this university live up to its potential. In the words of Charmaine Chua: “Defunding the police is less an end than a prerequisite for a democratic constitution of the processes and institutions of collective life.”

Therefore, we call on Georgia State University to:

  1. Sever ties with the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), including board members, institutional sponsorships and collaborations, and donations to APF;
  2. End all investment in Cop City, including President M. Brian Blake’s involvement with the Atlanta Committee for Progress and Georgia State University Foundation donations;
  3. Divest from all parties supporting Cop City (listed here) and police foundations nationally (detailed in this report);
  4. End all institutional involvement in the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE), which has ties to Israeli police and shares hyper-militarized repression tactics with U.S. police, targeting Black protestors and civilians, and supporting violent apartheid against Palestinians;
  5. Decrease GSUPD expenditures annually, beginning with the FY 2024 budget. Funds should be reallocated to education, increasing student, staff, and faculty wages, non-carceral mental health support, food security, and affordable health care and housing;
  6. Defend students’ rights, both on and off campus, as they participate in protest and civic engagement as they see fit across the city. GSU must demilitarize institutional response to protests, in coordination with other local and state police, to end the current trend of police escalation and threats of arrest. Atlanta has a long history of protest in the name of social and economic justice; Georgia State should encourage its students to take part in shaping history, rather than using its resources to threaten and alienate them.
  7. Increase transparency with students, staff, and faculty, beginning with sharing GSUPD expenditures and records of the GSU foundation, endowment, and Board of Trustees;
  8. Develop a Community Benefits Agreement with students, staff, and faculty that advances racial justice and works to repair relationships with local community members who have been harmed by the university’s policing and real estate investments, especially Turner Field.
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