Outrage after police slaying of Atlanta forest defender


Protests and vigils have been held across the US following the police slaying of environmental activist Manuel Teran, 26, also known as Tortuguita, on Jan. 18 in Georgia’s Dekalb County. A protest over the killing turned violent in downtown Atlanta Jan. 21, with a police car burned, windows smashed, and several arrested. Tortuguita was shot in a police raid on an encampment in the Weelaunee Forest, a threatened woodland within the South River Forest conservation area. The Atlanta Police Foundation seeks to clear hundreds of acres in order to build a $90 million Public Safety Training Center, referred to as “Cop City” by local residents.

Authorities say a Georgia state trooper was also shot and injured in an “exchange of fire” during the raid, and that a handgun was recovered from the scene. Seven were arrested in the “clearing operation,” and are said to face “domestic terrorism” charges. A total of 13 activists face such charges in the campaign to save the¬†Weelaunee Forest.

“The Forest Defenders in Atlanta are trying to protect their community from the ever-increasing threat of climate catastrophe and militant policing,”¬†said Susi Dur√°n, chair of National Lawyers Guild-Atlanta chapter. “In response to these protesters’¬†righteous requests, Georgia State Patrol murdered Forest Defender Tortuguita. This is an unacceptable abuse of power and proves that more police will not make our communities safer.”

Local communities largely oppose construction of the facility. Aside from diverting city funds away from community resources, they say building the facility will increase police surveillance of the predominantly Black neighborhoods near the forest, and contribute to erosion of the local watershed.

“In Atlanta and across the US, investment in police budgets comes at the expense of access to food, education, childcare, and healthcare, of affordable and stable housing, of parks and public spaces, of transit and the free movement of people, of economic stability for the many,”¬†organizers with Defend the Atlanta Forest said in a statement.

The 3,500-acre South River Forest is a newly designated greenbelt¬†on Atlanta’s eastern and southeastern fringe. It is a patchwork of municipal, county and private lands to be protected under easements arranged with aid from The Nature Conservancy.¬†The City of Atlanta has nonetheless leased 380 acres within the proposed conservation area for the training facility, which is to be partly funded by private corporate donors.

A key aim of the conservation area is restoration of the South River watershed, which has degraded due to deforestation and use of the river for wastewater dumping. The South River’s waters ultimately flow into the Altamaha River, which in turn empties into the Atlantic Ocean, while Atlanta’s municipal supply mostly comes from the Chattahoochee, a tributary of the Apalachicola, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Rapidly shrinking water resources in the region have led to plans to pipe water to Atlanta from the Tennessee River, a tributary of the Ohio. This is opposed by Tennessee state authorities, resulting in a bitter dispute between Georgia and Tennessee. The controversy has highlighted the need to protect local water sources.

Image: It’s Going Down

  1. ‘Terrorism’ charges in Cop City protest

    Police say at least 23 people will face domestic terrorism charges after they were arrested March 5 during a protest¬†at the site of the planned law enforcement training facility in Atlanta dubbed “Cop City” by opponents.¬†Authorities said officers and construction equipment were assailed with Molotov cocktails, fireworks, bricks and stones. A total of 35 were detained.¬†However, local activists¬†report¬†that those arrested were attending a concert far from the construction site and not a part of the demonstration.¬†(CNN,¬†Jurist)

  2. Atlanta activist fatally shot with his hands up: autopsy

    An environmental activist died after raising hands and being shot from head to toe by police near Atlanta, a new autopsy reveals. The activist known as “Tortuguita,”¬†whose full name is Manuel Esteban P√°ez Ter√°n, suffered 14 gunshot wounds at the hands of¬†the Georgia State Patrol¬†on Jan. 18‚ÄĒincluding one through his right eye that killed him, family attorneys said. (NBC, NPR)

  3. Prosecutor quits in Cop City cases

    A metro Atlanta prosecutor announced June 23 that her office is withdrawing from criminal cases tied to protests over the “Cop City” project, citing disagreements with the state’s Republican attorney general, including the decision to charge a legal observer with domestic terrorism.

    DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston’s decision means Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr will have sole oversight regarding more than 40 additional cases connected to the Stop Cop City¬†movement. Previously, the two offices held joint jurisdiction over those cases. “It is clear to both myself and to the attorney general that we have fundamentally different prosecution philosophies,”¬†Boston told WABE-FM.

  4. Atlanta declines to verify anti-Cop City signatures

    The City of Atlanta chose not to verify a batch of signatures gathered by campaigners opposed to the development of a police training center known as “Cop City”¬†on Sept. 11 due to a stay issued earlier this month by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Activists seek a city-wide referendum to prevent the training facility from opening.

    As the Vote to Stop Cop City Coalition prepared to submit around 116,000 petition signatures at Atlanta’s city hall, activists were met with an “acknowledgement letter”¬†from city officials. The city clerk‚Äôs office said that, while it would store the signatures, it was unable to begin the verification process because of a stay issued by the Eleventh Circuit blocking a lower court’s ruling that allowed campaigners to collect signatures beyond a 60 day deadline imposed by Georgia law.

    A representative of the coalition stated that the legal argument in the letter was “just wrong,”¬†citing US Supreme Court precedent in Anderson v. Celebrezze and Burdick v. Takushi, in which the court held that restrictions on democratic processes are only constitutional if they further a legitimate government interest. The representative also said, “The argument that they are confined by the law is insincere. What is really happening here is that they‚Äôre using any method possible to prevent people from ‚Ķ having a voice in government.”¬†The coalition has vowed to go to court to challenge the city’s decision.

    These events come just days after Georgia’s attorney general indicted 61 people under the states Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations law over their connections with demonstrations against the training center. In March, 35 protesters were detained after a confrontation with the police near the center’s¬†construction site. Prosecutors later charged23 of them with “domestic terrorism” over the incident. (Jurist)

  5. Atlanta police use tear-gas to disperse ‘Cop-City’ protestors

    Police used tear-gas and flash-bang grenades on protestors Nov. 13  during an anti-Cop City demonstration urging the city of Atlanta to halt the construction of a new police training center. (Jurist)

  6. Cops raid Atlanta forest defenders’ homes

    Police in Georgia, together with federal agencies, are conducting a crackdown on activists involved in the¬†continuing campaign against “Cop City.” Pre-dawn raids on three houses on Feb. 8 were the third such operation that wee in residential areas of Atlanta and nearby unincorporated DeKalb county. In one raid, a woman was forced out of her home with no shirt and a man dragged by his hair, while rooms ave been ransacked and personal items seized. There have been no arrests.¬†The operation comes after weeks of Atlanta officials promoting an effort to apprehend activists linked to arson against construction and police equipment. (The Guardian)