“WE NEED YOU HERE” Morehouse and Spelman Students Protest During Crown Forum to Challenge Morehouse to Join ‘Stop Cop City’ Efforts

Photo by: Kollin Washington

By: Bennie Williams, Staff Writer

On Feb. 2, at a regularly scheduled Crown Forum session, student organizers took to the stage to highlight the proposed construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, known as ‘Cop City.’

At Morehouse, Crown Forum is held weekly at 11 am in the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel. Each week, a different speaker comes to campus to engage with students on social justice and leadership issues. Throughout their time at Morehouse, students are required to enroll in six semesters of Crown Forum. 

According to the syllabus, “Crown Forum is a communal tradition that extends from the 19th-century founding of the School to the 21st-century institution of today. Crown Forum demands of students an understanding of their responsibility concerning servant leadership and a global citizenry.”

Evidently, these student organizers intended to use Crown Forum’s symbolic history and its attendance requirement as an opportunity to address their classmates, faculty, and college administration.

In an opening statement to the student body, Daxton Pettus ’25 said, “We are here to discuss a system that has historically and continues to oppress our Black communities. He said, “as an institution of Black men next to an institution of Black women, we cannot allow this cycle of violence to continue. Surely, we must not neglect the history of our people and the interests of the people who live in our community.”  

Each student speaker presented a single demand. These are the student demands:

  1. We demand Morehouse College denounce and sever their support in building the “Atlanta Public Safety Training Center” in our community, which it refers to as ‘Cop City.’
  2. As a Board Member of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, we demand President Thomas’s dissent against their support for the creation of ‘Cop City.’
  3. We call the student body to action. We must advocate for reallocating the $30 million taxpayer dollars to be invested in the Atlanta community. 
  4. We demand that President Thomas align himself with these demands. 

Student organizers expect the college’s 12th President, Dr. David A. Thomas, to address and meet their demands by Sunday, Feb. 5, by 5 pm. 

Here’s what we know: 

  •  In 2021, former mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms approved a lease agreement with the Atlanta Police Foundation to establish the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, known to locals as ‘Cop City.’ 
  • The proposed location will be within the South River Forest. The Atlanta region’s most significant remaining green space is the South River Forest. 
  • The training center is estimated to cost as much as $90 million. Proposals show that it will take up over 85 acres of the 350-acre plot. 

This week’s Crown Forum session, hosted by the International Labor Studies Program, featured Chris Smalls. He currently serves as president of the Amazon Labor Union. Smalls said that when asked about the events that unfolded during his visit, “It was a powerful moment to see the students understand this moment in history and want to take action.” He added, “I’m happy and proud to stand with my brothers and sisters of Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta to fight for the rights that we equally deserve.”

The Crown Forum did not end with the singing of the college hymn, as usual. It ended with a growing “WE NEED YOU HERE chant,” calling on President Thomas and Morehouse College to address students’ concerns. 

After the Crown Forum session, many students stayed behind on the chapel plaza to discuss the demonstration that had just occurred at what was supposed to be a regular Thursday session. 

Adon Cesar, ’25, told The Maroon Tiger, “I feel a spirit of change is on the way for my brothers. A lot has been going on with everyone’s mental health and emotions. I feel as though we are all fed up.” Cesar said, “the real question is, is the college seeing this, and will they respect this?”

The Crown Forum demonstration comes after a teach-in held on Jan. 31 regarding the murder of Tyre Nichols and ‘Cop City.’ The Political Science Leadership Studies Program hosted the teach-in. It provided students with a safe space to share their thoughts and reactions to current events. 

Here’s what some students told the Maroon Tiger following the teach-in: 

Calvin Bell said, “I am not behind the statement. As a member of the Student Government Association, speaking on my position. I believe that we must capture this moment in a different light and make demands through progress. In order to do that, we must stand up as a student body and let our voices be heard.” 

Amir Johnson, ’23, said, “I think it is important that Morehouse releases a statement in regards to condemning the police officers. But, if we are going to release a statement, it has to be action-oriented. We see Morehouse and Spelman sit on boards that are endorsing ‘Cop City,’ so it is counterintuitive. 

Micah Washington, ’23, president of the chapel assistants program, said, “I think the statement was insensitive, to say the least. I think it told a group of men whose immediate response is to express themselves through action to lay down and take it. When we attend a school rooted in the tradition of Dr. King, who said, a riot is the language of the unheard; it was telling us to be quiet.”

He added, “We are losing our culture… the culture of Morehouse.” 

After reaching out to the Office of the President, President Thomas could not be reached for comment. The Morehouse College Student Government Association announced a full body meeting open to all students on Feb. 2 at 8 pm. 

The Maroon Tiger is committed to providing the student body updates as events unfold. 

Copy Edited by Kevin Williams