We all learned in high school civics that as citizens of the United States, we have a right to protest. It is in the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights, and it is a powerful tool for expressing dissent. When the people protest against an action from the government, the government has the responsibility to listen. Why, then, has the Atlanta City Council refused to verify the thousands of signatures signed in protest of the construction of Cop City?
The residents of Atlanta are certainly justified in their opposition towards this $90 million dollar training center for police. First and foremost, the construction of the facility will have serious negative impacts on the environment. The Weelaunee Forest is the biggest green space in the city. Its tree canopy provides shade for nearby residents, and deforesting the area will add to the urban heat island effect, meaning that ground level will become even warmer and more energy will be needed to power air conditioning for buildings. The forest also acts as a filter for air pollutants, and tree roots help prevent soil erosion and maintain water quality.
Residents are also afraid of police militarization, especially since the surrounding area of residents are predominantly black. Tensions with the police have been especially high throughout the duration of protests against Cop City, and multiple people have been arrested while protesting. These concerns are not ones that should be taken lightly. If the people do not want a facility like this – one that will directly impact their community – they more than deserve a say in it.
In this case, listening means that the Atlanta City Council needs to look at the petition that received 116,000 signatures and verify said signatures. According to NBC News, protests said that the petition only needed 58,203 valid signatures. Now, the definition of a “valid” signature is something that perhaps should be brought to question. NBC News says that a valid signature means that “the signatory must be a City of Atlanta resident who has been registered to vote since the 2021 city election.”
This rule leaves out registered voters – especially young voters – who may have been registered to vote in the election for various reasons, and inhibits their right to protest. A 19-year-old would not have been old enough to vote in 2021, but if they are of age now, why should their signature not be counted? The government’s actions affect them too, so they should therefore be able to have a say in protesting its actions.
In any case, the Atlanta City Council owes it to the residents of Atlanta to verify these signatures. These are officials the people of Atlanta voted for. Representatives have the responsibility to hear and uphold the wants of their constituents, which means that when the people protest, representatives need to listen. 116,000 signatures is a lot, and it is not a number that you can ignore. If that many people are against the building of this facility, the government at the very least owes it to them to look at the petition.
At the end of the day, the council’s refusal to verify the signatures is an infringement of rights. The people have the right to protest whenever they feel as though the government has not acted in their best interest, and when such a large number of constituents sign their name to a petition, it is vital that the government listens. Ignoring their protest takes away from the action’s effectiveness, and with protest being such an important part in upholding our democracy, that is simply not an option.