The Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Student Council overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday to support the “Stop Cop City” movement and urge the University of Wisconsin-Madison to support the movement.
Originating in Atlanta, Georgia, the Stop Cop City movement opposes the creation of a 380-acre Atlanta Police Foundation police officer training center. The city of Atlanta has provided $90 million in funding for the project, which has stakeholders across the nation, according to the Associated Press.
Sustainability leaders across the country are concerned the proposed land for the training center is within the Weelaunee Forest — land that used to belong to the Muscogee tribe and is now inhabited by a large percentage of Black residents, according to Inside Climate News.
Protester Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran was shot and killed by Atlanta police on Jan. 18, according to NPR. Those opposing the facility’s creation said in a petition they fear a potential over-militarization around communities of color in the area.
In September, four student-age Madison residents were among 61 individuals charged on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) indictments in relation to protesting the project. Two were arrested on domestic terrorism charges, in addition to the RICO charges. Georgia prosecutors alleged the pair participated in a conspiracy called “Defend the Atlanta Forest.”
Quinn Henneger, a UW-Madison sophomore and member of the ASM Sustainability Committee, introduced the legislation during the Nov. 8 ASM meeting.
“The Stop Cop City movement is really important when you're thinking about the criminalization of protests. There's been backlash against protests ever since the first picket sign was made,” Henneger said. “That's not new. What is new is people being arrested at concerts and being charged for domestic terrorism.”
The two Madison residents facing RICO indictments were part of an organized attack on the future site in Atlanta on March 5. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, more than 150 masked protestors at the future site chased police and torched the area before fleeing to a nearby music festival.
Prosecutors indicted 61 people, though they admitted the difficulty of proving those who were arrested were a part of the violent protest, according to the State Journal. RICO charges carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison under Georgia law, which may be added upon the charges on underlying acts.
In Wisconsin, legislation surrounding protests and free speech has been contentious. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a bill last year, known as the “Anti-Riot Bill,” fearing its language had the potential to legally criminalize nonviolent protests.
More recently on Nov. 7, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a Republican-led bill that would establish free speech and academic standards across the UW System. The bill, created in response to a 2022 survey which found some students felt uncomfortable sharing views on sensitive topics, is still awaiting a Senate vote.
Under this bill, UW System universities and tech colleges could be forced to pay up to $100,000 in damages to anyone who sues for a free speech violation. Opponents fear the high financial burdens may increase faculty members’ fear to voice their opinions, according to the Wisconsin Examiner.
Henneger said increased regulation of protests is a counter-reaction to the “Defund the Police” movement following Geroge Floyd’s murder in May 2020. They were also concerned the Atlanta training facility could set a nationwide precedent of police militarization.
“There's a fear within police departments that caused them to validate themselves and put all this money to like training facilities toward military-grade weapons,” Henneger said. “There's already ‘cop cities’ being built. There's one in Tennessee, it's a $415 million facility that's being proposed in Nashville.”
Amnesty UW will host a tabling event in Library Mall on Nov. 13 from 12 p.m.-3 p.m. for more information on the movement.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Nov. 16, 2023 at 1:11 p.m. to indicate that all four student-age people were indicted on RICO charges.