Riotsville, USA movie poster
Police block downtown streets following a protest, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Atlanta, in the wake of the death of an environmental activist killed after authorities said the 26-year-old shot a state trooper. AP Photo/Alex Slitz.

After the assassination in cold blood of an activist in Georgia by police, the issue the deceased activist was protesting has come to light—Cop City Atlanta.

The police killing of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who opposed the clearing of land to build a law enforcement training facility (Cop City Atlanta), is being reported as ‘unprecedented’ violence leveled against an environmental activist.

According to the article “Assassinated in cold blood: Activist killed protesting ‘Cop City’” (, “Protests had begun in late 2021, after the then Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, announced plans for the training center. The forest had been named in city plans four years earlier as a key part of efforts to maintain Atlanta’s renowned tree canopy as a buffer against global warming, and to create what would have been the metro area’s largest park.”

So, to say Terán was an environmental activist is accurate. However, what is glaringly missing from that narrative is the fact that Terán and other protesters were seeking to block the clearance of Georgia parkland not simply to save the environment, but to save Black people and others in urban Atlanta (the reason unnamed by most media for those current Atlanta “riots”).

Police block downtown streets following a protest, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Atlanta, in the wake of the death of an environmental activist killed after authorities said the 26-year-old shot a state trooper. AP Photo/Alex Slitz.

How so? Because “Cop City Atlanta,” described innocently enough as “a $90m training center for police and firefighters,” is set to be a training ground for para-military police to more effectively control and “put down” potential future “threats” in the form of “riots” from citizens protesting mistreatment and injustice directed at them from “the state” (law enforcement and their civilian white-nationalist affiliates).

Those who are members of Generation X and older (57-plus years old) have lived through this kind of thing before—even if we didn’t know it.

The documentary “Riotsville, USA,” currently available on Hulu, tells the story of “Cop City Atlanta” 55 years before “Cop City Atlanta.”

How so, you ask?  

Because “Riotsville, USA” delves into the aftermath of the now famous 1968 Kerner Commission report looking into the cause of the riots that were sweeping across the country. Blackfolk already knew the reasons for the “riots”—police brutality and other acts of oppression heaped upon us. But “other” folk needed the “validity” of a commissioned report.

And before the group charged with looking into this issue got started, Blackfolk and others concerned with “justice for all” had serious doubts about the conclusions the commission would come away with.


Because the president at the time, Lyndon Baines Johnson, appointed some of the most moderate, middle-of-the-road folk, with no representation from sisters and brothers from the hood.

Surprisingly, this milquetoast commission concluded exactly what the nation’s most “radical” activists had been screaming from the mountaintops forever. In the words of the commission, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one Black, one white—separate and unequal.”

The report, like countless Black, Brown and white 60s activists, offered a strong indictment of white America, saying, “What white Americans have never fully understood — but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

The commission’s report, officially titled “Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders,” was published in paperback form, sold for $1 and became the biggest-selling book of 1968 (today, you can download it for free in PDF form at your leisure).

That LBJ commission, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, a group almost as far away from being radical or revolutionary as they come, concluded that the only answers to this permanent creation of an American apartheid reality was to fully fund measures to create an equal America.

Critics, including many elected officials, claimed that the price tag (billions) was too high, as it would equal on a monthly basis the same the US was spending on the war in Vietnam. The commission and activists countered, such an investment was a cost that paled in comparison to the negative costs and outcomes if their solution was ignored.

So, what happened? Did America fully invest in equal education, housing, healthcare, criminal justice reform and the gazillion other things Blacks had been aggressively denied for centuries by local, state and federal law (and lawless white domestic terrorist violence)?

Hell naw! But you already knew that.

But what many don’t know is that instead of investing those billions in creating a true “one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all,” the decision was made to put that money into training police as para-military agents and create a finely-tuned playbook and standard operating procedure for putting down those current late 1960s “riots” (actually they were rebellions—efforts by the oppressed to fight unjust treatment), and any future uprisings.

“Riotsville, USA” shows actual footage of those training sessions, which took place in multiple locations that were actually named “Riotsville” (ironically, or not, those sites were constructed on military bases named after Confederate heroes and active pro-slavery champions). But before those jarring visuals, the documentary shows the many voices, from sea to shining sea, of people who were making it plain in terms of the state-sanctioned violence and oppression that led to those protests in Watts, Chicago, Newark, Detroit and hundreds of other US cities.  

Reverend Albert B. Cleage Jr., who was known as the Blackest and most radical minister in America, Dr, Kenneth Clark (co-creator of the famous Black/white “doll test”), Dr. Alvin Poussaint (known for his consulting work on “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World”), Bayard Rustin (organizer of the 1963 March on Washington) and countless others provided examples of the way Blacks were processing and responding to the racial oppression of the times and the uprisings that sprang from them.

The cold-hearted response to the Kerner Commission report, the pouring of billions into better-equipping law enforcement to further oppress the oppressed, and the weekly training sessions that were held with police commissioners and military officers from across the country flown in to observe and take notes, and take those ideas and tactics back to their respective cities, would be mind-blowing if we hadn’t lived the results of those heinous actions over the past decades.

But even so, it’s still mind-blowing to see just how committed this nation has been, historically, to talking “equality” while funding an apartheid police state. And that commitment is alive and well today.

It is that same commitment in 2023 that killed Manuel Esteban Paez Terán in cold blood, as he, and others, sought to stop the building of a modern-day “Riotsville, USA” on the outskirts of Atlanta.

But even so, here we are, and the beat goes on. The question we’ve got to have the courage to confront/answer is the one asked by The Last Poets during those turbulent 60s and early 70s: “Black people, what’chal gon do? Black people, what’chal gon do? Will the real Black people please stand up?”

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Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...