Police Murder Forest Defender Near Atlanta’s Proposed “Cop City”

Police Murder Forest Defender Near Atlanta’s Proposed “Cop City”

In this episode, Scott talks with Micah (@micahinatl), an Atlanta-based organizer, about the situation in Atlanta.

Listen in:https://apple.co/3XNOcSY

A forest defender, Manuel Teran, AKA “Tortuguita” or “Tort,” was shot and killed by police on Wednesday during a violent raid of the protest camp and community gathering space that has blocked construction of an enormous police training facility known as “Cop City” on roughly 100 acres of public forest in southeast Atlanta. Vigils for the murdered forest defender Tortuguita have taken place from Oakland to Minneapolis to Charlotte to Chicago. In Atlanta, activists held a vigil the night of the shooting and are planning a march on Saturday.

Since June 2021, the Stop Cop City campaign (@defendatlforest) has resisted the construction of a police training facility and demolition of an urban forest. Through the campaign demonstrators have been pepper-sprayed, attacked, threatened and violently arrested by the police Last month, 5 protestors were arrested and charged with “domestic terrorism” On Wednesday, beside the murder of Tort, at least another 7 protestors were arrested and charged with “domestic terrorism.”

Rush Transcript:

Scott Parkin 

Welcome to the Green and Red Podcast. I’m your co host, Scott Parkin in Berkeley, California. Today, we’re going to be talking about serious events that happened this week in Atlanta, GA.

As you know, our show covers a lot of organizing and direct action, particularly environmental issues and environmental direct action. And this week in Atlanta, a forest defender name named Manual Teran, also known as Tortuguita or Tort was shot and killed by police on Wednesday. This happened while they were carrying out a violent raid on a forest defense camp in Atlanta that was protesting the destruction of the forest and the construction of a police training facility that’s known as “Cop City.”

The campaign had been going on several hundred acres public forest in southeast Atlanta. Vigils for the murdered forest defender have taken place from Oakland to Minneapolis to Charlotte to Chicago. In Atlanta activists have been holding vigils and are planning a march on Saturday. And so we’re going to be joined by Micah, an Atlanta based organizer to talk a little bit about what has happened. And then also do a little bit of background on Cops city.

Micah, welcome to the Green and Red Podcast. I’m so sorry to hear what’s happened. I hope folks are holding up okay in Atlanta.

Micah 

Yeah, thank you. Thank you. It’s, obviously a rough and terrible time, which is true of any time that the police murder someone. But there’s also a lot of righteous anger and outrage at the fact that the police have, you know, taken another life, and that they did it in service of trying to, you know, destroy a forest and build a massive playground for cops.

Scott Parkin 

Can you start off with telling us what you understand has happened and happened on Wednesday?

Micah 

So a lot of the details have yet to you know, come forward. And you know, the full picture is missing, and there are sort of different narratives at play. But what is clear is that on Wednesday morning, a joint police task force that’s been convened by local police in Atlanta and DeKalb– County, state level police, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Georgia State Troopers and even federal the FBI. They were conducting what they called a clearing operation, which is just a raid in the forest on Wednesday morning. And what we know is that during this raid, they shot and killed a forest defender Tortuguita. And at the same time a cop was shot non fatally. The cop was taken to the hospital and stabilized. The announced relatively quickly that the cop was stable.

There were different narratives that emerged quickly and the cop narrative has changed multiple times. So first, they claimed that they had been ambushed with gunfire sort of out of nowhere, and that an officer had been shot and that they were returning fire. Shortly after that, they claimed actually in a release that they had been in conversation with the forest defender who then fired at them after refusing verbal commands. And so there’s sort of conflicting stories already from their part. And the GBI has already come out and said that there’s no body camera footage of the shooting, and they’re not really seeing any of the names of the officers involved. So, you know, in terms of the full picture, a lot of the details are murky, of course, we know that, you know, cops lie all the time, especially after acts of police violence. And then on the other hand, you know, these are also unconfirmed reports, you know, nothing is positive until more information comes out. But some folks from on the ground there, there’s been some coverage of it have suggested that it could have been an accidental friendly fire between cops which you know, would also not be the first time that that kind of thing happened

Scott Parkin 

And we’re talking about Georgia state troopers. It’s been my understanding that it was a SWAT team. Correct?

Micah 

Right, right. So it’s yeah, it’s a multi -agency task force. So they’ve got, yeah, they’ve got all different types of agencies in there. What they are saying on the record is that the team that murdered Tortuguita was all Georgia State Troopers and Georgia State Troopers don’t have body cameras. That’s their official position.

And then is this, this isn’t the first time that they’ve raided this camp? No, in this fashion?  Right. So they also raided the camp in December. And at that time, I think on that, on that day was I think, in mid December, they arrested five people, they arrested another person the next day, charged all of them with domestic terrorism, just for you know, living in the forest. They, you know, I’m I’m not a lawyer. But the they seem like pretty, pretty flimsy charges. And I mean, it’s obviously outrageous to you know, it’s an outrageous attempt to really just scare people and, you know, repress protests to charge these folks with domestic terrorism.

Scott Parkin

And then, and then, it also seems like the, that the narrative, the police narrative, which I’ve noted, goes everything from like the Georgia State police’s PR team, to Brian Kemp, the governor, basically pushed out that narrative really quick about exchanging gunfire between protester and police. And then all the mainstream media has just embraced that which I call a “copaganda.” And and I’m wondering if you could just comment on that. Oh, yeah. And one thing, one thing I just want to say because I’ve been, I just want to refer to is that New York Times article about this, where you use the word “firefight,” right title was just trash, absolute trash.

Micah

And I mean, that. I think as soon as folks who are not on the ground heard what happened, I think the first thing that everyone was trying to get across, you know, to media is cops lie all the time.  Do not just regurgitate their narrative. And of course, you know, so many outlets did immediately. It was Brian Kemp, our right wing, Republican governor, and it was also our Democratic mayor, Andre Dickens, who immediately Tweeted, you know, “thinking of the police officer.”

The propaganda machine was turning on immediately. The Atlanta Journal Constitution is our sort of newspaper of record here. They’ve already released an opinion piece today, by their opinion editor denouncing the violence, denouncing the forest defenders, calling them terrorists, that sort of thing.

I will say, what’s actually been interesting is that when I say the movement, I don’t mean any one organization, because it’s this broad, decentralized, autonomous movement. People that broadly make up, the movement of people trying to Stop Cop City has been somewhat successful in its messaging. Because some of the media coverage has actually already begun to turn a little more skeptical as GBI has said, conveniently, there’s no footage. And you know, at one point, they said, a gun was recovered from the area. But have not released any information. They’re refusing to release the names of officers involved. It’s been interesting to see that the propaganda is still in full force, of course, but there is some degree to which some members of the media are starting to treat it with a little more skepticism. And I think that that’s actually reflecting sort of the strength of the movement rather than any sort of morality on part of, you know, the media.

And so I’ve seen I’ve seen the seems like, especially this morning, maybe what’s happening sooner, but in like, looking at social media and media, it definitely is this sort of narrative around, nobody can, no gun. At least they’ve not talked about a gun being recovered.

Scott Parkin

And so what is the what is the state? And we look at the state in different ways as to Georgia or just the state. What have they said that they are doing as far as like investigating what happened? Have they announced an official investigation into what happened? Or they just take enough cops word for it?

Micah

So my understanding is that GBI is going to be investigating. And of course, GBI is part of the task force that, you know, was part of this murder. And so, you know, there, folks are already calling for an independent investigation, a real investigation. Because I don’t think anyone has faith that GBI is going to indict itself.

Scott Parkin

Do you know where an independent investigation would come from or come from another state agency or would it come from some other independent body?

Micah

I’m not actually sure

Scott Parkin 

And, and just to kind of shifted a little bit. I want to kind of shift a little bit to talking about Tort for a moment. And then also just the community and movement response. And so there was a great profile piece in the “Bitter Southerner” by established journalist David Peisner last month.

It quotes Tort as saying: “We’ve got a lot of support from people who live here. And that’s important because we went through non violence, we’re not going to beat them at violence, but we can beat them in public opinion in the courts, even this is my home. Now. We built a nice community here. It’s about reclaiming the parks and public space.”

Could you talk to us a little bit about the sort of community response and even the movement response outside of Atlanta to this to this tragedy?

 

Micah 

Yeah, absolutely. I’ll say I didn’t personally know Tor. But already, the stories and sort of the testimonials and the memorials that have been flowing in from folks who didn’t know them have just been so beautiful. The Atlanta community press collective is a collective that has been collecting stories and you know, some of those quotes have been, I think, released online. And I think they all just paint a picture of a beautiful soul who was committed to the movement and committed to stopping environmental extraction and police expansion. Already, there’s been vigils that have been hosted. There was a vigil last night and there’s another vigil planned tonight. There are protests planned. And I know that there have been vigils in in cities across the country, and, you know, photos and solidarity has been pouring in from you know, not even just the US, but the worst would have been here every night. It truly is a national and international movement against Cop City.

Scott Parkin 

Actually just talking about Cop CIty, because we didn’t get to this. You know, actually, for folks who were just finding out about Coop City, I’ve found an alarming number of people who didn’t know what it is. Can you tell us what Cop City is? Why have people been camped in this forest for almost two years fighting it?

Micah 

Yeah, absolutely. So Cop City is the name that organizers have given to this proposal for a new police and firefighter training and really militarization facility at the site of the Weelaunee Forest, also sometimes called the South River Forest.

The proposal is essentially to take this city owned land and lease it to this private nonprofit called the Atlanta Police Foundation, and have them develop this this massive complex (i.e. Cop City) on what is currently forest land. It would destroy really crucial forest land, that’s been referred to as one of “the four lungs of Atlanta.” It’s really, crucial, especially in the midst of environmental catastrophe.

They would, they would replace it with Cop City. Not only does it have standard buildings, but would actually include a mock village for police to train in. So things like schools, gas stations, apartment buildings, playgrounds, you know, an area for cops to actually perfect, their deadly urban warfare techniques, essentially, on people. Police from all over the country and world would, come to this facility. And so, basically, this was the proposal has had been in the works for several years, but it didn’t really gain steam, until the summer of 2021, when it sort of really went public. There was an enormous movement against it. So many people across so many different issues. And of course, city leadership, rammed it through anyway. And so ever since then, like you said, folks have been living in the forest, defending it against this. They’ve been working to stop the construction of Cop City. And move beyond just asking like, well, if city council said “no,” does that mean, it’s over? I think the movement is saying, no. Let’s make this project untenable for contractors and everyone who would be involved, who put their reputations on the line. We need to make it clear that this is not what the community wants. So many of these corporations who’d had their nice statements in 2020, saying, “oh, like, you know, we support black lives and you know, we’re going to take these steps.” And then you know, most of them are funding the Atlanta Police Foundation to move forward with this project.

Scott Parkin 

And in this part this forest is in it’s in a lower income black and brown neighborhood, correct? Yeah,

Micah 

Yeah, it’s a majority black area in DeKalb. County. And, you know, there was on the day of the vote where City Council voted to approve this plan, there were 17 hours of public comment and so many people calling in from the area saying like, “Hey, I live in this area. This is the last thing we want. We love, the forest land, the park land, because it’s directly adjacent to this public park.” So people saying, “Please, you know, please don’t do this.” Meanwhile, the only people who did support it, were folks who called in from Buckhead, which is in northeast Atlanta, it’s this really rich, white part of Atlanta. And, you know, of course, they don’t want it in their neighborhood, they just want it to exist in other people’s neighborhoods.

Scott Parkin 

But when you look at the board, and the supporters of it, I noticed that I was looking at that, that yesterday, is we’re looking at like, the big corporations that are based in Atlanta– Delta Airlines, Coca Cola, Home Depot and companies like that. And then that makes sense. I call it the new Gilded Age.

Micah 

Right. 100%.

Scott Parkin 

And then, and then just kind of talking about the campaign, I have a couple of questions about the campaign. And just the first one is like in the actual forest, like, what are some of the tactics we’ve seen, in trying to discourage and stop the construction, the construction of the crop city and destruction of the forest?

Micah 

Sure. So I think, again, this is a broad, autonomous, decentralized movement. And so there are so many different corners of the movement, so many folks within the struggle. Individuals, organizations, and I think it’s ranged from the on the ground forest defense of folks who are living in the forest and saying construction equipment is not coming in. You’re not going to begin this destruction. But it’s also so much more, it’s preschoolers in Atlanta  who have held several protests of their own ”hey, the trees are future, protect the trees.” It’s organizations who are filing lawsuits against this land swap deal on the public parkland that’s directly adjacent to where the cop city would be built. It’s folks who are calling City Council, calling the mayor, marching. it’s people who are contacting the contractors on the project and pressuring them to pull out. And going directly to contractors and saying, “Hey, this is, you know, a messed up project that you should not support.” And so, you know, I think that often in the media, they’re sort of reducing it to just what folks in the forest are doing. And in fact, I think one of the things that has frequently been published, is what folks on the ground are saying “we’re all forest defenders.” Everyone has a role to play and this movement really is so so broad and sort of wide ranging. I

Scott Parkin 

A frequent guest that we’ve had on the Green and Red Podcast is my good friend and comrade Jake Conroy.  He was part of SHAC or the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, campaign. but they used the strategy of going after secondary and even tertiary targets. And I was part of an Earth First! campaign about 20 years ago where we used that model to put pressure for a different forest defense campaign in Northern California. Which put direct pressure on companies connected to the earth destroying company.

Micah 

Right. And as they, you know, the movement successfully got Reeves Young, who was one of the subcontractors on the project to pull out. Reeves Young didn’t say that they were pulling out because of the movement, they gave this canned statement saying- “Oh, our work has finished anyway.” But, you know, it was absolutely a result of the movement. An I think that now that police have literally murdered someone in the forest, and you know, so many of these corporations and contractors have blood on their hands. I think that the pressure will only intensify to you know, to pull out.

Scott Parkin 

Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of pressure on elected officials in Atlanta around this to like the mayor and others that has been part of the campaign as well?

Micah 

Yeah, absolutely. I would say that the mayor has been very closed off to any sort of input from the movement and has rarely given comment. He has shielded himself and seems to be pretending that it’s not even happening, but the they are, you. know, they’re absolutely, you know, targets for pressure.

Scott Parkin 

It seems to me, just thinking about this sort of history of campaigns and movements when things turn a flashpoint like we’re seeing right now that we will potentially see some movement from the powerholders? Are some of these institutions blinking?

Micah

Yeah, hopefully, that’ll happen.

Scott

Sure. One thing I actually wanted to kind of also say about Cop City, I think it’s an important intersection of more visible movements in the world right now, one around racial justice and police brutality  with the targeting of Cop City; and then also the environmental, forest defense and climate movements. I’ve been watching the letter of solidarity which has lots of sign-ons. It seems like many of these. A lot of a lot of mainstream, you know, white-led climate groups are signing on to the statement of solidarity. I was kind of wondering whether they would balk at it because of the rest of the police narrative. Around the shooting. [editor’s note: smaller and medium size climate groups are signing on, but few of the bigger climate groups have yet to sign]

Micah 

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that because, because Cop City, if built, and it’s not going to be built, but if built, it would have  just ramifications on so many levels, in terms of environmental impact, human rights, police expansion, gentrification, you know, protection for capital, as they continually take control of Atlanta. And there’s just so many dimensions that I think it is bringing in such a wide range of people, to the extent that I mean, during, during the summer of 2021. When before the legislation had been approved, even had neighborhood associations, really saying resolutions saying “hey, we don’t want this, you know, near our neighborhoods, we don’t want this.” And so, you know, in then you even have people objecting on the grounds of just like, good governance and transparency, where this entire process has been just shrouded in mystery and secrecy from the very beginning, it was all designed by the Atlanta Police Foundation at every step of the way, where they’re supposed to be community oversight. They’ve completely undermined it. And so, I think it’s been amazing to see how much sort of mainstream involvement there is. Because it is yeah, it’s, it’s, it is just an issue that has such intersectional ramifications.

Scott Parkin 

Why not? One other? One other question, just to kind of shift the topic a little bit. It seems like there’s that intersectionality. And then there’s whether it’s this, like, sort of broad coalition, broad movement of people from neighborhood associations to people defending, defending the forest . Are people doing home demos? are people doing office visits to some of the contractors, etc? And it seems like what the state is trying to do, and I’m talking about the “greater state,” is that they’re trying to like, drive wedges breaking us apart, which is what they do. Right. And so, last month, on the raid, they carried out, they arrested, you know, four or five people and charged them with domestic terrorism. I’m gonna guess that’s a strategy to try and marginalize the people in the forest who are who are fighting. And I’m just kind of curious, your thoughts on that.

Micah 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think they’re super clearly just these sort of retaliatory charges meant to scare people to scare people from coming to the forest, to scare people from  being willing to speak out. I think it is completely intended to drive a wedge, especially with probably organizations that are thinking more about their reputations in a certain sense maybe they don’t want to go near something that has the label of terrorism. But uh of course actually makes it all the more urgent for organizations to speak out and to be in solidarity with the movement because they’re there. They’re also using those charges. to demonize the entire movement to justify the kind of violence that we saw on Wednesday where they can say, Well, hey, these people are quote unquote, domestic terrorists. So, we’re gonna go in and you know, all bets are off, right. And, you know, on its face, it’s so ridiculous to charge these folks with domestic terrorism for living in a forest. But that’s what they’re doing. And I think that’s, that’s sort of their end game.

Scott Parkin 

We’ve seen a lot of anti-protest legislation where they’re criminalizing, turning simple acts of civil disobedience or direct action into felonies. Has Georgia recently passed similar legislation?. I mean, it’s legislature’s all Republican and there’s a right winger in the governor’s house. Is that the case here is that where those cases, charges are coming from?

Micah 

Georgia has definitely done things like that, like right after the uprisings in either 2020 or 2021. They, they passed essentially, like a Blue Lives Matter Bill, which is hate crime stuff for treatment of cops It’s just absurd. This domestic terrorism law actually came out of in 2017. And it was modeled after the law that was passed after the Charleston church shooting. And, you know, of course, people at the time warned them if this incredibly broad statute that basically gives them license to call any protestera domestic terrorist, and, you know, whether those charges stick, of course, is another question. But, it just gives them incredibly broad license to pursue this kind of thing. And I think an important point here is that, in the wake of tragedies like that, you often get support from liberals for you know, new hate crimes legislation, domestic terrorism legislation, all you know, all of the talk that came out after the January 6 stuff.  This is what domestic terrorism legislation is used to prosecute, right. It’s used to prosecute protesters and organizers on the left, not people on the right,

Scott Parkin 

100%. And what they’ve done for a century. I’ve been like reading a book about that period during World War One. And after World War One, where they came up with originally came up with some of that legislation to target people in the left, like radical unionists and immigrants. The four folks, four or five folks who were charged with domestic terrorism in December are there they’re out on bail now, right? And then seven more people were arrested with that on Wednesday, after they were murdered Tort. Then they also arrested several more people, including someone domestic terror charges.

Micah 

Yep. And actually, the Atlanta solidarity fund announced on Twitter today that they’ve all had bonds set and the total bond amount for all the protesters together is $117,000. So, Atlanta solidarity Fund is a bail fund that’s been active for a while, and they’re raising money to bail folks out.

Scott Parkin 

We’ll put that a link in our show notes. And I’m sure hopefully, a lot of groups are signing the solidarity letter, we’ll be sharing that. Definitely. My only other question, how can we support?

Micah 

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think there are so many ways to plug in, whether it’s people holding vigils all over the place, people are holding demonstrations, where they live, whether they’re in Atlanta or not donating the solidarity fund  signing on to the statements that are circulating putting out statements on social and elsewhere. You know, any anything that can be done to help, you know, of course, counter the narrative that, you know, the propaganda narratives that are being put out, there is an account online, that sort of that, that accepts submissions from people who are on the ground, sort of like an umbrella account, and it’s called at defend ATL forest, which I’ll send you the, you know, the handle and they’ve That’s, you know, they they’re sharing information all the time about different actions that are happening. You know, there’s a protest tomorrow or a vigil tomorrow and tonight, if anyone’s in Atlanta. Yeah, there’s tons of ways to plug in. And I would say it’d be good to follow some of those accounts and sort of get plugged into what all is happening.

Scott Parkin 

Okay. And we’ll totally include bail that in the show notes. Micah, I really appreciate you being here. Especially with everything that’s happened that you’re able to talk to our small little scrappy podcast have. Folks, you’ve been listened to Micah who’s an Atlanta based organizer, talking about the Atlanta forest defense campaign but then also the tragedy that happened around the murder of a forest defender by police.

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