Private equity firms profit from Atlanta forest destruction
PESP uncovers the private equity connections to Cop City and climate activism
New research compiled by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP) illuminates the link between private equity (PE) companies and two controversial projects in Atlanta: Cop City and Blackhall Studios. The report, “PE Profits from Destroying the Atlanta Forest,” details the ways private equity capital has been utilized to fund projects that aim to demolish large swaths of the Atlanta forest. Private equity faces limited disclosure requirements around the details and activities of their investment funds. This lack of transparency has shielded PE firms from public view and scrutiny as they profit off the destruction of the forest and increased policing and violence in Atlanta.
“PESP stands in strong opposition to Atlanta’s Cop City and Blackhall Studios projects,” said Amanda Mendoza, PESP climate researcher and report co-author. “The violent tactics Atlanta-area law enforcement has taken against land defenders provide another example of how the combined interests and power of capital and policing are wielded against local communities and their needs. Specifically, we want to call attention to the private equity firms that have their own hands dirty in the blood that was spilled in Atlanta.”
Private equity firm Roark Capital owns Inspire Brands, which is a large, corporate backer of the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF). As of February 2023, Roark claims $33 billion in assets under management. Inspire Brands generated $30 billion in sales in 2021. Inspire Brands also has multiple relationships with the APF. Inspire’s CEO Paul Brown sits on the Atlanta Police Foundation Board of Trustees, and Marshall Freeman, who served as COO of APF for seven years, is a board member of the Inspire Brands Foundation.
“We have seen that Roark Capital is no stranger to supporting threats to democracy,” said Azani Creeks, PESP labor researcher and report co-author. “The firm’s own CEO donated thousands to former Georgia Senator David Perdue as Perdue sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”
The new report also calls attention to PE firm Silver Lake Management. The firm has a more than $1 billion investment in Motorola Solutions, which has sold more than $22 million worth of products and services to the Atlanta Police Department (APD) since 2016. Another Silver Lake investment, Shadowbox Studios, is encroaching on Atlanta’s forest. The media company had plans to expand studio space by 1,000,000 square feet on a large swath of vital Atlanta green space.
“Silver Lake’s large partnership with Motorola, and through it the APD, is a concerning relationship we found,” Creeks said. “Motorola is the leading communications provider for APD and the department’s second largest vendor. The company also has been scrutinized for its role in supporting state violence around the world.
“Building Cop City and expanding the footprint of the APD ultimately benefits Silver Lake’s bottom line, as the APD continues to rely on Motorola for communications and surveillance technology.”
Private equity’s relationship to the destruction of Atlanta’s forests are just another example of the industry’s involvement in the extraction, and ultimately destruction of, natural resources for the sake of quick profits. Along with other climate-harming projects such as the CoastLink Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline, Cop City and Blackhall Studios stand as continuing examples of dangerous initiatives that force local communities to protect their native lands and resources.
“Roark Capital and Silver Lake Management have the ability to help hold the APF and APD accountable for the recent violence against activists and the destruction of the Georgia environment,” said K Agbebiyi, PESP campaigner and report co-author. “In addition to the environmental costs of these projects, there are clear impacts on the safety and well-being of the predominantly Black residents who live in the development area. In solidarity with the Forest Defenders, PESP calls on Roark Capital, Silver Lake, and all investors to divest from Cop City and Blackhall Studios.”
You can find PESP’s initial statement on Cop City and the killing of 26-year-old Tortuguita HERE.