Feb. 12, 2023 — For weeks following the killing of Forest Defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Terán on Jan. 18 by Georgia State Troopers, during a massive police raid at the site of the proposed “Cop City” urban-warfare training facility, police officials have claimed there was no video of the shooting. Yet of the multiple agencies involved in the action, only members of the Georgia State Patrol were not required to wear body cameras.
At a well-attended press conference Feb. 6, lawyers representing Paez Terán’s family described their repeated requests to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to be given any footage of the killing that included sound and which was taken on the ground or from the air by drones or helicopters. They have gotten no response from that state agency, which is handling the case. And Paez Terán’s parents say that no one from the city administration or any police agency has reached out to them in response to their requests for information.
The official police story is that as a squad of heavily armed state police approached the 26-year-old activist’s tent, Paez Terán fired first, wounding an officer. Then the police fired volleys of bullets, striking Paez Terán’s body at least a dozen or more times.
Everyone who knew Tortuguita as a peace-loving, gentle person disputed that story and claimed that they had only heard a barrage of multiple shots coming from the woods.
“They were genuinely so generous and loving and always wanted to take care of people,” said Vienna, their partner, who added Tortuguita had taken a 20-hour course last year to become a medic for the activists. “Their biggest thing was building communities of care.” (usnews.com, Jan. 29)
Pressure gets a video released
Suddenly on Feb. 8, the Atlanta Police Department released a video showing a team of city police officers carefully walking through underbrush and a tree-filled space, as many gunshots are heard in rapid order. The shots stop, and then there are more in quick succession. One person is heard saying it is “suppressed fire,” meaning it is coming from police weapons. After the police heard over their radios that an officer was down, an Atlanta cop responded, saying that they shot one of their own.
The GBI responded to the release of that explosive video by cautioning the public not to respond until the investigation is completed, which could be months from now. But despite the state’s attempts to quell the struggle, it is growing.
The highly militarized vehicles, weaponry and charges of “domestic terrorism” against those employing civil disobedience tactics have outraged an increasing number of people who are aware of the growing danger of a police state.
Activists demand: No Cop City in the ‘Beloved Community’
For those activists from many communities and movements — neighborhood, environmental, abolitionist, climate, Black Lives Matter, children and others, who have employed diverse tactics to stop “Cop City” — this murder has only solidified their determination to prevent the destruction of the forest. It is still known by its original Muscogee Creek people’s naming as Weelaunee.
Students vigorously challenged Mayor Andre Dickens at the historic Atlanta University Center in a Feb. 7 closed-door session at Morehouse College, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater. Dickens opened his remarks by telling the students that he “could be anywhere,” but “I’m here at Morehouse. I’m asking: What you say?”
The students responded “Stop Cop City!” Reportedly, Dickens grew increasingly angry as the criticism continued, and he yelled that he was no “sell-out.” In support, students at Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Emory University have held protests and teach-ins and written anti-Cop City chalkings in recent days.
At least one member of the Atlanta Police Foundation Board, former Emory University president, Claire Sterk, has resigned in protest. A public campaign is underway to pressure the corporate, institutional, financial and sports organizations, who lead and fund the Atlanta Police Foundation, to end their memberships.
Solidarity actions continue to be held across the country and are expanding the slogan of “Stop Cop City” into a national demand.
More information is at stopcopcity.org and defendtheatlantaforest.org.