By ERWIN FREED
On Thurs., Jan. 26, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared a “state of emergency” directly targeted at ending protests to stop Cop City and calling for Justice for Tortuguita—a Weelaunee Forest Defender murdered by police officers last week. The declaration was made unilaterally by executive order. During a “state of emergency,” the governor is vested with virtually total power. According to the executive order’s text, “all orders, rules, and regulations promulgated by the governor’ have the force and effect of law.”
The order also came one day before the expected release of bodycam footage from Memphis, Tenn., of the actions by police officers involved in the murder of Tyre Nichols, which is very likely to spark mobilizations against police violence.
With the order, Kemp is also calling to make active duty 1000 Georgia National Guard members and deputize them as police authorities, twice the number that were called up by the state in 2020. Those National Guard members will be under his direct authority to “keep the peace,” meaning police, maim, and repress protesters. The state of emergency is set to stay in place at least 15 days, until Feb. 9.
The order comes after protests in response to the murder of Tortuguita (Manuel Teran) allegedly caused property damage in downtown Atlanta. The damage was smashed windows at the Deloitte office building—where the Atlanta Police Foundation headquarters are located—at a Wells Fargo bank, which is a major funder of the Atlanta Police Foundation, and burning a police car. Reports indicate that the protest, which started as a vigil, was peaceful other than these incidents.
The dynamic of extreme police repression as a response to minor property destruction labeled as “violent” is a common tactic in the cops’ arsenal. But property isn’t people and regardless of the advisability of property destruction as a tactic, nothing excuses the violence and tyranny of the capitalist state.
The ruling class in Georgia is making clear where their priorities are, as they basically create a dictatorial regime. Instead of respecting the strong majority opinion in Atlanta that adamantly opposes Cop City, the city, county, state, and federal governments are attempting to smash basic democratic rights.
Atlanta is being called the “poster child” for the U.S. housing crisis, Georgia maternal mortality rates are almost three times the national average, and “only about half of Georgia’s teachers plan to remain in the profession for five more years.” However, Gov. Kemp is putting “all resources of the state of Georgia [to] be made available to assist in the ongoing response to the state of emergency”—defining the “state of emergency” as people who are expressing their democratic rights to oppose police brutality and ecological destruction.
Meanwhile, activists who boldly faced violent police attacks, including chemical weapons, to defend the Weelaunee (Atlanta) Forest and stop the construction of a new massive police/urban warfare training facility that is planned to destroy over 150 acres of city-owned property are facing “domestic terrorism” charges.
The movements for social and environmental justice and all interested in basic civil liberties must adamantly oppose this sweeping attack on democratic rights in Georgia. In the wake of the 2020 uprising, the ruling class is waging a frontal offensive on democratic rights—including body autonomy, voting rights, and a frontal assault on queer communities. The “normal” capitalist state is being flanked and supported by fascist and far-right organizations in enforcing this reactionary regime. Successfully imposing a state of emergency in Georgia without nationwide opposition would represent a major victory for these anti-democratic forces.
Instead, movement organizations—including women and queer organizations, labor unions, climate activists, immigrant groups, and fighters for racial justice—need to mobilize locally and potentially send delegations to Atlanta to show real opposition to these moves by Kemp and this latest, qualitative escalation in the attack on our rights to organize in the United States.
Stop Cop City! Justice for Tort! No state of emergency in Georgia! Drop all charges against Weelaunee Forest Defenders!
Photo: Jan. 21 protest in Atlanta. (R.J. Rico / AP)