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Why the Cop City Indictments Are So Important
This is a fight about whether or not we are doomed to live in a police state.
Last week, Georgia’s attorney general indicted 61 members of the movement to stop “Cop City”—the massive, draconian, environmentally disastrous police training facility currently being pushed by every part of Atlanta’s cop-industrial complex—with racketeering. (Several of the defendants have also been charged with domestic terrorism.)
The indictments are breathtaking in their scope and chilling in their implications. They are also a signal of why the fight to Stop Cop City matters so much.
It should go without saying that these charges are outlandish. People are being accused of conspiracy for handing out flyers. They’re being targeted for signing their name as “ACAB” on documents. They’re being targeted for reimbursing people for $11 worth of glue. It’s nonsense.
But it’s supposed to be nonsense. This is the government telling people that, if they have the temerity to go up against the expansion of the security state, they will be crushed by any means necessary, even if the methods seem ridiculous on their face. It’s a signal that the state has the ability to deploy overwhelming force in any way it wants to, whether that is through physical violence or the unhinged use of the legal system. It’s a message that to dissent is to invite the government to destroy you. It is meant to be a reminder that the only power that really exists in America is the power of the state.
It is also meant to deter people anywhere else from trying to curb the power of the police. Look what will happen to you, the government is saying. Don’t even bother. Submit.
These charges are clearly an escalation in some sense, but they are mostly just a continuation of a multi-pronged, violently oppressive attack on the Stop Cop City movement that has been taking place for years. The government has killed protesters in cold blood. It has violently raided people’s homes. It has sprayed charges of domestic terrorism around with indiscriminate abandon. It has treated activists attempting to use supposedly “legitimate” avenues of change with contempt. It has leaned on ludicrous tactics of voter suppression.
The government listed the date that the supposed RICO conspiracy began as May 25, 2020—the day that George Floyd was murdered. In case you didn’t get the message that this is about wiping out the entire Black Lives Matter movement, and not just Stop Cop City.
The grand jury that handed down these indictments was reportedly the same grand jury that indicted Donald Trump. Grand juries are an abomination, even if they sometimes go after people you don’t like, because they are explicit tools of the state to target anyone for pretty much anything. There is no place for them in a civilized society.
It is worth just reflecting on how far governments are willing to go—how ruthlessly creative they are willing to get—when it comes to preserving the right of the police state to do whatever the hell it wants, while simultaneously insisting that there is little to nothing that can be done to give people homes they can afford, or funding their schools, or preventing them from dying because they can’t pay a medical bill. The problems in our society are never, ever, ever about the state’s lack of capacity to address them. They are about whose problems are seen to matter and whose are not.
It is also very, very important to remember that, even though these RICO charges came from a Republican, this is not some boo-hiss-GOP-bad attack on civil rights and democracy. This is, primarily, a Democratic attack. Atlanta is a Democratic bastion. The city’s Democratic establishment has been at the forefront of the efforts to impose Cop City and to suppress the movement against it. The security state is composed of both major parties, not just one.
It is wild that we are having endless conversations about how professors talking about racism at like six elite universities is a sign of authoritarianism sweeping across our land, but multiple levels of government trying to suppress a protest movement out of existence merits barely a peep in the discourse. The New York Times runs approximately 1500 op-eds a day on how wokeness is destroying America; as far as I can tell, it has run approximately zero op-eds about these RICO charges, even though they are a much more urgent attack on civil liberties than anything the supposed stormtroopers of cancel culture could come up with.
To end on a vaguely uplifting note: this is all terrible, but it is also a sign of how scared the government is. They have been trying to eliminate this movement for years and have failed. They have unleashed just about everything they have in their arsenal and the movement is still standing. These charges are abhorrent, but they are also a sign of desperation. The government knows that this fight has become about something bigger than Cop City. It’s about whether or not we will live in an eternal police state. If Cop City fails to get off the ground, that will be a tremendous victory for everyone across the country who wants to tear down the architecture of our so-called criminal justice system. The government is terrified of that prospect. It knows exactly how high the stakes are. How wonderful would it be to let these villains know that they are right to be afraid? How beautiful would it be to defeat them? I think it can be done. Here’s hoping that it is.