'Stop Cop City' protesters argue with Atlanta mayor, disrupt SXSW event in Austin

Protestors disrupted a SXSW panel event that Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens participated in. (Candice Bernd/X/Screenshot)

Protesters against Atlanta’s Public Safety Training Center disrupted an event where Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens spoke in Austin, Texas.

Video captured by Candice Bernd, a Truthout reporter, shows the incident at a panel on Monday at the SXSW conference. 

The disruption began when one person interrupted Dickens as he spoke.

“How are you at odds with Brian Kemp when you work with him on Cop City, you work with him on destroying the forest—”

“Let me finish what I was saying if you don’t mind,” Dickens said.

The two spoke over each other and a chorus of voices began yelling.

Dickens was participating in a panel called “Policy Collision: Local Officials & Governors At Odds.” They discussed how local officials navigate disagreements with state officials over policy issues. 

Another person shouted, “Andre Dickens, you are responsible for the murder of the first environmental protestor—”

“I was responsible?” Dickens said.

The protestor continued. “How do you sit on a panel and talk about tensions with governors when you are working with Brian Kemp to build Cop City … you’re working with Republicans…” 

Dickens tried to talk through the ensuing commotion. Another protestor said, “Tortuguita was shot 57 times.”

Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Teran is an environmental activist who was killed by law enforcement near the site of the training center.

“Look at who’s talking,” Dickens shouted at them. “Think about the privilege … one thing I was gonna ask is … there’s a racial element.” 

Protesters broke into “Stop Cop City” chants and Dickens reiterated that there’s a “racial element” to the issue. Many of the protesters appeared to be white.

About a dozen protesters unfurled a banner that read “Andre Dickens G.O.P Stooge Stop Cop City.”

Protesters then chanted “Viva Viva Tortuguita” as Dickens left the room. Protesters followed into the hallway but were soon stopped.

“Everywhere you go, we’re waiting for you. We’re in every city. Your political career is over,” one person said. 

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said in a statement: 

“This is just the latest example of a continued pattern of spreading disinformation and a refusal of civil dialogue by individuals who do not even live in Atlanta. The Public Safety Training Center is a long-needed facility for EMS, Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, Atlanta Police Department and other City personnel to receive ongoing education to continue to provide the best possible services to the community. The PSTC is under construction, set to open this year and these distractions will not deter us from creating a modern, best-in-class training center with greenspace, public spaces and curriculum around anti-bias training, de-escalation techniques and proportionality.”

Latest incident one of many in ongoing issue

Dickens, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Kemp both support the training center.

“Bipartisan majorities of both chambers, the mayor, and myself all agree on the critical need for the completion of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center,” Kemp said during his 2024 State of the State address.

The $90 million Public Safety Training Center is expected to open by the end of this year. It will sit on 85 acres of land in DeKalb County’s South River Forest.

In January 2023, Georgia state troopers killed environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Teran. Teran and other protesters were camping near the site when law enforcement tried to clear it. The GBI said Teran shot at a trooper first, but records suggest it was friendly fire from another trooper. No charges were filed against the troopers involved. 

In August, 61 people were indicted on racketeering charges in a case related to protests against the training center. Some defendants are facing additional charges like domestic terrorism, money laundering and arson. The trial has been delayed.