Death in the Atlanta Forest: Stop Cop City!

by Melinda Tuhus, climate activist

What can you say about a young activist killed by police while trying to stop the destruction of an urban forest for the construction of a militarized police training facility to practice urban warfare? It marks an escalation of repression against the environmental justice/climate movement in the U.S. of the kind more commonly associated with Brazil or Mexico. It has prompted rallies and vigils around the country, including in Connecticut.

On Jan. 18, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, 26, who took the forest name Tortuguita (“Little Turtle”) or Tort, was shot by police who were raiding various camps and tree sits in the forest that comprised the movement to Stop Cop City. The official police story – amplified by the mass media, the mayor and Governor Brian Kemp – is that someone shot at the officers first, injuring one, and the police returned fire. They said no camera footage is available, and for several days they didn’t produce a gun that they now say was bought legally by Paez Terán. They have also told conflicting versions of what happened. In one version police say they surrounded the tent while Tort was inside, leading to speculation that the officer was injured by friendly fire.

The Atlanta Police Foundation, a private entity, got permission from the city to build an actual town on 100 acres of forest, the better to practice urban policing. Not just activists, but local residents from the neighboring part of the city, which is majority people of color and lower income, oppose the project…

The opposition to Cop City – focused on racial and environmental injustice and climate concerns – has been militant and decentralized, with some people carrying out sabotage of heavy machinery and focusing their ire on the CEOs of companies participating in or funding the project. Some consider destruction of property violence, while others don’t, but it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of killing another human being. Tortuguita (who used they/them pronouns) declared on several occasions to reporter David Peisner their commitment to non-violence, if not as a belief system, then at least as a strategy: “The right kind of resistance is peaceful because that’s where we win. We’re not going to beat them at violence. They’re very, very good at violence. We’re not. We win through nonviolence. That’s really the only way we can win. We don’t want more people to die. We don’t want Atlanta to turn into a war zone.”

[Article can be read in its entirety at]

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