Thursday, May 04, 2023

Cop City: A Timeline Of The Atlanta Way

scalawag  |  Cop City is the Atlanta ruling class' chosen solution to a set of interrelated crises produced by decades of organized abandonment in the city. As Gilmore explains, crisis means "instability that can be fixed only through radical measures, which include developing new relationships and new or renovated institutions out of what already exists." These crises included the threat and reality of mass uprisings against police violence, extreme and racialized income inequality and displacement, corporate media narratives in the wake of the 2020 uprisings that threatened the image of the city as a safe place for capital investment and development, and a municipal secession movement that threatened to rob the city of nearly half of its tax revenue following the uprisings.

Designed and propelled by a mix of state, corporate, and nonprofit actors, Cop City would address the overlapping crises facing Atlanta in three ways. First, it would provide a material investment in police capacity on the heels of the uprisings, a project to prepare for and prevent future rebellion. Second, it would represent an ideological investment in the image of Atlanta, signaling to corporations and those attracted by the influx of tech and other high-paying jobs that Atlanta is a stable, securitized city that will protect their interests. And third, Cop City would constitute a geographical investment—one that refashions publicly-owned land in a disinvested area into something new while opening up new opportunities for development. In other words, to borrow from Gilmore, Cop City is a partially geographical solution to a set of crises facing and generated by the city—a means through which a coalition of state and corporate actors have chosen to address years of organized abandonment and its outcomes. 

When thousands of Atlantans took to the streets during the nationwide uprisings of 2020, they were responding to more than the recent police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks. They were responding to decades of social disinvestment, displacement, and police expansion—and calling for a reversal of these dynamics.

Twenty-first-century Atlanta has featured rapid, publicly-subsidized development and gentrification, the further disintegration of the social safety net, the expansion of surveillance and policing, and rising inequality. Since 1990, the share of the city's Black population has decreased from 67 percent to 48 percent, while the median family income and the share of adults with a college degree in the city doubled. Investment firms have gobbled up the housing stock, with bulk buyers accumulating over 65,000 single-family homes throughout the Atlanta metro area in the past decade. As the city has attracted major tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Honeywell—and along with them, more middle and upper-class white people—the city has pushed its Black and working class further out of the city. Choices by policymakers have made Atlanta a lucrative place for big business, but a difficult place to live for the rest of residents. In 2022, for example, Atlanta was named by Money as the best place to live and was identified by Realtor Magazine as the top real estate market in the country. The same year, Atlanta was proclaimed the most unequal city in the country; relatedly, Atlanta is the most surveilled city in the U.S.

How did we get here? Atlanta has long been home to what is known as "the Atlanta Way"—the strategic partnership between Black political leadership and white economic elites that work in service of corporations and upper-class white communities and to the detriment of lower-income Black and working-class communities. While historians such as Maurice Hobson, Adira Drake Rodriguez, and Dan Immergluck have documented the long history of the Atlanta Way throughout the 1900s, we can begin with the leadup to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta as a key accelerant of the Atlanta Way. As Immergluck notes, the decisions made in preparation for the Games "effectively set the stage for long-term gentrification and exclusion in the city, focusing primarily on making the city more attractive to a more affluent set of prospective citizens."

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