WASHINGTON — A pair of Hollywood actors joined the chorus of progressive activists who have criticized city of Atlanta officials for forging ahead with a proposed public safety training center.
And they are taking their message to a national audience, highlighting a myriad of concerns about the project and criticism of the mostly Black Democrats who run and represent Atlanta.
At a packed news conference held during the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference, actress and podcaster Amanda Seales said that she felt the need to speak out because she worries that other cities will try to replicate what Atlanta is doing.
“All they need to see is one version of this success for this to be copied and pasted in a number of other communities and other states, et cetera,” she said. “So when we talk about the way that the environment is going to shift with a cop city in Atlanta, we’re not just talking about the physical environment. It changes the environment of the society that is there.”
Seales and the other speakers rattled off a litany of criticisms about the proposed facility that echo points made in protests locally over the past several months. They spoke of environmental concerns about building in a forested area, allegations of police brutality, weighty domestic terrorism charges filed against some protesters and blasted the city’s decision not to begin processing tens of thousands of positions that were filed in hopes of putting the issue on the ballot.
And they said they have been disappointed in leaders like Mayor Andre Dickens, City Councilman Michael Julian Bond and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock who they believe have let supporters down.
“I don’t care if it’s Black leadership,” said actor Kendrick Sampson, who like Seales starred in the hit HBO show “Insecure.” “Black leadership also advocated for the ‘94 crime bill, and look at the effects of that. They have pressure to address the things that are harming us in our communities. But the pressure is being pushed in the wrong direction. The pressure is coming from cops; it’s coming from law enforcement.”
Dickens’ office said he is aware of the detractors but is focused making investments that address issues like crime and homelessness. He said the training center is needed.
“This is not a zero-sum game,” a spokesman said in a statement. “We can have a comprehensive approach that ends deadly gun violence, addresses the root causes of the broken justice system, have a productive community dialogue and do as much as we can to remind Atlantans who we are as a city.”
Bond rejected much of the criticism raised about the public safety center, saying they touch on issues that predate or are unrelated to the project, or are the result of misinformation from opponents. He said the city has long needed a new facility to train its police, fire and EMS workers, and Bond said he remained resolute in his support despite those who take issue with it.
“There’s a finite number of protesters; there’s half a million citizens in Atlanta,” Bond said. “We’ve already been engaged in a democratic process when we approved this facility two years ago. There was an election, people ran for office, they were elected. The citizens of Atlanta imbued us with this authority, and I believe we’re serving them to the best of our ability.”
Warnock recently sent a letter to Dickens asking for more transparency around the processing of petitions related to the training center referendum. The activists at the presser, including Black Voters Matter co-founder Cliff Albright, said they want to see more from Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator.
“It’s good to be troubled and have questions, but we needed a stronger statement on the need for people to be able to vote,” Albright said. “Especially as he’s been very strong, which we’re happy about, on issues of democracy and voting rights.”
Albright said he also wants to hear Warnock speaking out about activists who are facing RICO charges and hopes there may be another letter coming, this time to Georgia’s attorney general.
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