Photograph: Alex Slitz/AP

By: Timothy Pratt/The Guardian

Kamau Franklin stood in midtown Atlanta on a recent chilly, drizzly night, held a microphone and addressed a crowd that had peacefully marched a mile to the headquarters of the Atlanta Police Foundation – the organization behind the $90m police and fire department training center known as “Cop City”.

“[Atlanta] Mayor Andre Dickens – is this enough Black folks for you?” he began, with several dozen Atlanta police department officers standing behind him, most with riot helmets and some with long guns, guarding the entrance to the 50-story building.

Mayor Andre Dickens – do we have enough people from Atlanta here for you?” he continued.

Franklin, founder of an Atlanta-based non-profit organization, Community Movement Builders, helped organize the event, the first Black-led protest against Cop City as part of ongoing opposition in its second year that has now sparked national and international headlines.

The optics of Black voices being added to the public conversation around Cop City is especially important in Atlanta, where nearly half the population is Black, and which is often referred to with terms such as “the birthplace of the civil rights movement” and “the Black Mecca”.

The training center, planned for 85 acres in the South River Forest south-east of the city, has drawn increasing attention particularly since 18 January, when police shot and killed Manuel Paez Terán, or “Tortuguita”, an activist who was camping in Intrenchment Creek Park, a part of the forest that is separated from the “Cop City” site by the creek that is its namesake.

Police said Paez Terán shot first, but there is no body cam or other video of the shooting. The park side is under threat from Ryan Millsap, a former film studio owner, but remains public while the developer’s plans are the subject of a local environmental group’s lawsuit.

About 400 Black, Latino, Native and white people, from Atlanta and elsewhere, marched on Thursday night through intermittent rain from the King Center in Sweet Auburn – the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr – to the midtown office tower. Chants included “Stop Cop City” and “Viva Tortuguita”.