Dozens of protesters made their way through downtown Detroit Friday afternoon before halting to a stop in the middle of Congress and Griswold, blocking traffic and prompting angry drivers to blare their horns.
“Stop Cop City!” the crowd chanted. “I am…a revolutionary!”
The march followed a rally with members of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, Michigan Liberation, Detroit Will Breathe and several other social and environmental justice groups in a show of solidarity with protesters in the Atlanta area. For nearly two years, organizers and activists in Georgia have been protesting against “Cop City,” an 85-acre, $90 million police training center being developed in a forested area near Atlanta. In recent weeks, the “Stop Cop City” movement has spread across the country after an environmental protester defending the Georgia forest was killed by state police, and more than a dozen protesters were arrested.
In Detroit, protesters Friday spoke in opposition to a similar situation in Michigan – the expansion of Camp Grayling, a military training facility in the northern part of the state. Last year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources began notifying locals that the National Guard wants to lease 162,000 acres of state-owned land across several counties, more than doubling its current training grounds, reported Bridge Michigan. The Guard said it needs the land to make Camp Grayling a destination for year-round cyber, electronic and space warfare training.
Gabriela Alcazar, the network manager for MEJC, said Friday’s demonstration was arranged to hold a vigil for Manuel Paez Teran, also known as “Tortuguita,” the activist killed in Georgia. As people who protest injustice, Teran’s death was personal for the organization, she said.
“And so, we wanted to have that space of solidarity, but also of honoring their life,” Alcazar said. “And we started just working with a lot of people who we already worked with in the community. Environmental justice is an intersectional struggle, so we don’t just work with environmental or climate-minded folks, we work with folks on all kinds of different social justice issues.”
That prompted the individual organizations to become one–the Detroit by Atlanta Stop Cop City Solidarity Coalition, said Christiana Beckley, an activist from Southwest Detroit.
“I am an environmental activist and abolitionist and supporter of social justice everywhere,” she said. “So, these particular issues are really close to my heart because the idea of having cops and military taking over forests and funding, like funneling tons of money into that when we don’t have affordable schools or health care or food or housing for anybody is just something that I think is atrocious, so that’s what I’m here.”
A tale of two cities
In January, Teran was shot by a Georgia State Trooper in a forest on the outskirts of Atlanta while protesting the forest training site plan. The proposed project has been nicknamed “Cop City” because it will feature a fake city for police to practice in. Over the past few months, 19 Cop City activists have been arrested and charged with terrorism, according to Grist.
“Those same tools of militarized police impact us here in Detroit, just as they do in Atlanta,” said Antonio Cosme, an education coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation, and leader with Black to the Land Coalition in Detroit.
“I see Detroit and Atlanta as being deeply, deeply interwoven in their cultural fabric,” added Cosme, noting the frequent comparisons that are made between Atlanta and Detroit, as Black meccas in the United States.
Detroiters are well acquainted with the militarization of parks and the broader connection between environmental injustice and police. Detroit’s police force has used a section of Rouge Park as a training ground for decades. At the park, directly across the street from homes, the police use the site daily for shooting practice. They’ve also used the park to deploy bombs, and for tactical training – at least one park goer said she encountered tear gas, which Detroit police said has been used at the park during training exercises.
And like Terán, Cosme has Latino ancestry, and has had his fair share of dealings with the police and environmental injustice in Detroit.
Cosme said he was part of a sacred Indigenous ceremony at Rouge Park last year held to start the maple syrup tapping season, which was broken up by 12 police officers, and a helicopter.
This year, and in line with the motivations of Friday’s demonstration, Cosme is on a mission to end the use of Rouge Park by Detroit Police.
“We’re trying to kick the Detroit Police out of Rouge Park,” he said. Cosme said he and others want to turn the shooting range into something else, led by the community.
“We’ll be accountable to the community and we won’t be firing during (expletive) community events and kids camping and people doing cool [,] It’s terrible,” he said.
Detroit officials have said they work with the community and with parks groups and have defended the location of the range, saying it’s relatively isolated and, beyond a building and tree cover, isn’t near playscapes or restrooms.
The fight against police, more urbanization
Rai LaNier, executive director of Michigan Liberation, was one of the first speakers at the rally. LaNier said police and military technologies and partnerships have hurt Black and indigenous people worldwide. She also criticized Detroit police initiatives like Project Greenlight and ShotSpotter.
“The fight in Atlanta regarding cops city is directly related to our fight against police surveillance projects like ShotSpotter and Project Greenlight,” LaNier said. “Things that were supposed to protect us and defend us. City Council and the county commission, we are looking at you to stop wasting our money on zero effect rating technologies like ShotSpotter, like Project Greenlight.”
Cosme, who also is director of the Detroit Leadership & Environmental Education Program (D-LEEP), said projects like Cop City make it harder for people to have a relationship with nature.
“We have been colonizing, destroying and extracting resources and managing land as natural resources. And that’s a colonial paradigm,” he said. “Clock in with nature, get outdoors.”