The concept of Atlanta’s new police training facility, commonly called “Cop City,” is exhausting not only residents, students in the Atlanta University Center, and social justice activists but also the city mayor.
An audience member at one forum to discuss the issue at Morehouse College caught Mayor Andre Dickens falling asleep during the event.
The Feb. 7 event gave the HBCU’s president David A. Thomas a platform to address his support of the city’s new initiative to build a police training facility (the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center), according to the Maroon Tiger.
The school administrator was joined by members of the Atlanta City Council and law enforcement. The mayor reportedly went to hear out students from the Atlanta University Center, traditionally including Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morris Brown College, and the Interdenominational Theological Center, voice their concerns about the Cop City project.
During the forum, one audience member filmed Dickens nodding off and posted it on social media. Tiana Lee captioned the video, “So much to be said. The disappointment resonates within the room. Absolutely now (sic) words.”
Some of the comments were more direct.
“I woulda yelled into the mic ‘And you sleep!!!?” one person responded.
The disrespect to his constituents,” It’s Just Yanne wrote.
One person joked, “Well, you can’t say he’s woke,” playing up the term often placed on people pushing social justice agendas.
However, some commenters sided with the mayor.
“People with limited experience (and) understanding are so quick to criticize. His job is not easy!” wrote Dr. Em.
“Many of these public servants have back to back to back night meetings. He’s a human,” wrote Ryan.
As Lee zooms in on the video, the president’s voice says in a monotone, “It pains to think that my students are wondering if I have lost my connection.”
Comments show that social media users not only think he lost his connection, but so has the mayor.
JT Scholar wrote, “Disposable, that’s what we are. They feel like they can afford to treat us this way … Then act surprised when we don’t respect them or their authority.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to Atlanta Black Star’s request for comment regarding his snoozing during the Morehouse forum. However, Dickens, during the forum, addressed the ridicule he received over the project, particularly being called a “sellout.”
“Let me just share this with you, I ain’t never been no sell-out,” Dickens said to a heckler. “You got the wrong résumé that you’re looking at. I know we like to yell and shout out things just to be heard. You’ve been heard.”
He told them his résumé is stacked on his work in race relations.
AUC students have been in an uproar about the Cop City plans and demonstrated their public outrage with a “teach-in” on campus.
The students believe that the center would bolster police power in the city with a looming concern about police brutality and systemic oppression, according to a media advisory.
Dickens defended the plan explaining that he has made adjustments to remedy some of the concerns of the people.
“The city of Atlanta has the most extensive training requirements in the Southeast,” Dickens said. “Our training includes vital areas like de-escalation training techniques, mental health, community-oriented policing, crisis intervention training, as well as civil rights history, and education. This training needs space, and that’s exactly what this training center is going to offer.”
But the social media users were relentless, taking their narrative that the mayor is a sellout online — and even doing a contest for people to make rap songs about how much they dislike him.
On Jan. 31, a mixed group of AUC students protested the slaying of Memphis man Tyre Nichols by officers in Tennessee city as they voiced their opposition to the construction of the Atlanta facility.
The Morehouse students did another demonstration later that week during a recent weekly forum where they asked the president to “dissent as a board member of the Atlanta Committee for Progress” and stand with them against the Cop City. Another forum organized by students was held on Feb. 2.
Students felt they were not afforded the opportunity to be heard during the Feb. 7 meeting despite the gathering lasting for 90 minutes.
“Many questions were left unanswered, and students departed the event feeling disappointed in the condescending manner of communication from the Mayor. It appeared that the purpose of the Mayor and his staff were not to converse with the community about public concerns, but instead to propagate the need for an Atlanta Public Safety Training Center,” the statement said, concluding, “The intention of the forum was to address the concerns of students and the community, but it was clear that many of these concerns were not taken seriously.”
The 85-acre facility, first proposed in 2015, would be located in southeast Atlanta, roughly 9 miles from the AUC campuses, and cost about $90 million.
While Morehouse administration and the board of trustees have a neutral stance on the training facility, Thomas personally supports it.
“I’ll be very clear; I believe that Atlanta does need a new public safety training facility,” he said, adding the caveat, “That is not a Morehouse stance; that is my own personal stance.”
One of the 52 faculty members who oppose the building of the training facility is assistant professor of sociology Taura Taylor.
“I am personally against Cop City. I also want to support my students, and I think while we’re here at Morehouse; we have a responsibility to cultivate the spirit of social justice in the students,” Taylor said. “I think it is important for us as faculty to remind them that we are not just here to teach students, but we are here to stand beside them.”
Students continue to push for their schools to denounce the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, hoping they can address concerns of security without seeming to further militarize local law enforcement.