Scott Morgan cried, “Yessss!” and threw his hands in the air after discovering why a pair of volunteers approached him at Wild Heaven Brewery at Lee + White on Saturday. They’d asked the 29-year-old barista to sign a petition to put the controversial police and fire department training center known as “Cop City” on the ballot in November.
“This afternoon, I was gonna go and sign in person anyway, but you’ve come to me,” exclaimed Morgan. “You took an errand off my list, but I’m also super excited you’re here.”
Strangers with clipboards seeking signatures don’t tend to draw a lot of enthusiasm, but the mood was jubilant for some Atlanta residents who signed the petition this weekend. “I’m easy, I don’t like cops, and I really don’t want an urban warfare center nearby,” said Evan, a young West End resident, as he signed the petition.
Whether that excitement will translate into more than 70,000 signatures required over the next seven weeks is an open question. Organizers with the Cop City Vote Coalition told Atlanta Civic Circle they are close to obtaining their 10,000th signature, less than a week after the Atlanta Municipal Clerk’s office approved their petition language and form. They’ll still need to average about 10,000 signatures a week to meet the August 14 deadline.
Public opinion on the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center is split, and the petition’s requirements are strict. Only those who live in the city of Atlanta and have been registered to vote since Oct. 4, 2021 can legally sign. Additionally, Atlanta residents must sign the petition while physically inside the city limits, and all signatures have to be witnessed by another registered Atlanta voter.
These qualifiers have prevented people like Sandra Williams from signing the petition, as the retired teacher lives in Fulton County outside of the city limits. Williams told ACC she wasn’t necessarily against the Public Safety Training Center but thought the decision should ultimately go to a popular vote. “I just think if Atlanta is going to be a democracy, why not let the people decide?”
Because time is of the essence for the Cop City Vote Coalition, they’re canvassing and collecting signatures every day of the week. Field teams are stationed at the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Grant Park and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) office in Adair Park from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. to collect signatures. Meanwhile, roving teams of volunteers are targeting places with a high volume of pedestrians, such as the Eastside Beltline Trail and shopping centers.
Akil Gregory, one of about 40 volunteers who gathered in Grant Park on Saturday morning to collect signatures on Atlanta’s Westside, said he has no doubt the effort will succeed, despite the challenges. “Oh, it’s going to be successful. You’ll see, it’s weirdly easy to get people to sign,” he said. Over the course of a two-hour shift at the Lee & White development in the West End, Gregory and two others convinced 68 Atlanta residents to sign.
The voter referendum effort began the day after hundreds of people who showed up at City Hall on June 5to speak out against Cop City failed to move enough of the Atlanta City Council, which approved city funding for it by an 11-4 vote in the early hours of June 6.
Gregory, a 30-year-old Decatur resident, was speaker 105 out of 375 during the council meeting’s marathon public comment section. That experience, he said, motivated him to volunteer for the Stop Cop City Coalition. “It was just the haphazard way that the City Council conducted [the meeting] and just the level of callousness by the council members in hearing people out, but then voting the other way. It was trash,” said Gregory.
“I’ll be honest–I’d rather be home with my dog now. But being there [at the city council meeting] told me that I’m going to do everything in my power to be here.”
Cop City wasn’t on Stephanie Salyer’s radar while she worked in Africa for the Centers for Disease Control during the almost two years it’s been under consideration. But now she’s volunteering for the Cop City Vote Coalition after learning about the project in the last few months. “It’s really weird how the city is ignoring what people want and are trying to force this—and it’s especially tone deaf to a lot of the stuff that happened after the George Floyd protests,” said Salyer.
Some Atlanta residents who didn’t sign the petition said they didn’t feel sufficiently informed or had mixed feelings about the project. Williams, the retired Fulton County teacher, said the “Stop Cop City” messaging lacked nuance or room for people who want to stop the project without wanting to abolish policing.
“I think it can rub people the wrong way,” she said. “It’s very political with one side that says ‘Defund the police,’ and the other is ‘Back the Blue,’ and it makes everything kind of black and white, like—either you’re for us, or you’re against us.”