What does a massive deforestation and land development project by police in Atlanta have to do with Burlington, Vermont, more than a thousand miles away? Follow the money.
As The Rake Vermont described in earlier coverage last fall:
The $90 million project, popularly known as “Cop City,” is set to be the largest police training facility in the country, replete with firing ranges, helipad, explosives facilities and an entire mock city for advanced training. Cop City, the product of a deal between the City of Atlanta and Atlanta Police Foundation, would also boast a sound stage for use by Georgia’s film industry. While this project is new, the designated land has already been steeped in state violence, through its initial theft from the Muscogee people and its subsequent use as first a slave plantation and then federal prison.
The Atlanta Police Foundation has long been both a source and a conduit for political influence in Atlanta and across the state. Far from an organization funded by police officers passing the hat in their barracks, APF’s activities over the years have been bankrolled by multinational corporations and wealthy individual donors. Its board includes executives from giant firms like Delta Air Lines, AT&T, Home Depot, Waffle House, Georgia-Pacific (owned by Koch Industries) and, until activist pressure forced them to leave, Coca-Cola.
An investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that, among police foundations in more than a dozen cities, “None reported having as many employees or as large a board of private-sector leaders. Nobody was paid as much as Dave Wilkinson, the Atlanta Police Foundation CEO, who also earned more than Atlanta’s mayor and police chief.”
APF not only pushes for policy changes, it also directly implements them, including the rollout of “a vast network of security cameras that cover the city as well as a monitoring hub where police watch the footage in real time.” For Cop City, APF pledged two-thirds of the price tag, with Atlanta — and its residents — on the hook for the remaining $30 million.
Where is the Atlanta Police Foundation getting $60 million for its share of Cop City? For Burlington residents looking for an answer, one need only stroll down Pine Street.
From Local Startup to Multinational Appendage
Dealer.com, founded in 1997 and one of Burlington’s major employers, was purchased by Cox Enterprises subsidiary Cox Automotive in 2015. That purchase was part of a larger $4 billion deal to acquire Dealertrack Technologies, which had purchased Dealer.com a two years earlier for $1 billion.
Cox Enterprises is a $22 billion telecommunications giant based in Atlanta. Cox owns diverse and prominent brands including Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Axios and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Cox Enterprises has been a prominent donor to the Atlanta Police Foundation, and Cox CEO Alex Taylor is personally leading fundraising efforts for Cop City. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editorial board came out strongly in favor of the project.)
Cox Communications saw total revenues of $12.6 billion in 2020 with 18,000 employees nationwide. As subsidiary revenue details are unavailable to the public, calculating with averages would suggest that Dealer.com’s roughly 1,000 employees at the Pine Street location contribute $700 million in revenue to corporate headquarters in Atlanta.
Profits from that revenue can be found in APF’s coffers, in the Cop City construction equipment being brought to Weelaunee Forest, and in the violent police actions against forest defenders, which have wounded many and killed Tortuguita, a local activist.
Defending the Atlanta Forest Here in Vermont
Organizers here in Vermont from several groups, including FreeHer VT, Cooperation Vermont, Peoples Network for Land and Liberation, Food Not Cops, and People’s Kitchen are planning a rally and march against Cop City tomorrow, Thursday, March 9 at 4:00pm, with a march route starting in Calahan Park and ending outside Dealer.com offices. This event is part of the National Day of Action Against Police Terror, which is calling for “justice for the police murder of Tyrie Nichols in Memphis, #stopcopcity Forest Defender Tortuguita, and all others lost and impacted by police violence and terror.”
Michelle McCormick of Cooperation Vermont said in an email to The Rake that the coalition is demanding Cox divests from Cop City and ceases any fundraising for it. “Dealer.com employees are being encouraged to act in solidarity by staging sick outs, work slow downs and even stoppages,” she said.
Jim “Fergie” Cox Chambers, Jr., a member of the family that owns and controls Cox Enterprises, will speak at tomorrow’s action. In a press release, Chambers said, “For too long, the Cox family and others in the corporate ruling circle of Atlanta have dictated the narratives and the affairs of that city, as the rich and powerful do everywhere.”
Cox is far from the only APF-donating corporation with a footprint in Vermont. For example IHG Hotels & Resorts owns four hotels in the state, UPS has locations in thirty-five towns and cities, and Verizon has locations in twelve. But Dealer.com is the largest.
Profits from Vermont workers’ labor being siphoned to controversial projects elsewhere is not a new story, as any employee of Ben & Jerry’s knows. What those workers can and will do about it is, as ever, up to them.
Update, March 23, 2023: Below is a recording of the rally.