By ERWIN FREED
“Cop City is incredibly unpopular already. We’re very popular. We’re cool.” [Tortuguita] laughed as they said that last bit, but, without a doubt, the movement has succeeded in painting the forest defenders as a scrappy, idealistic David battling a heartless, moneyed Goliath. “We get a lot of support from people who live here, and that’s important because we win through nonviolence. We’re not going to beat them at violence. But we can beat them in public opinion, in the courts even” (quoted from The Forest for the Trees by David Peisner).
On Wednesday, Jan. 18, Atlanta and Dekalb County, Ga., police officers carried out their most brutal raid yet in an escalating series of repressive actions against Weelaunee forest defenders. During the attack, police shot and killed an Afro-Venezuelan activist named Manuel Teran and known in the movement as Tortuguita (Little Turtle). The raid also led to seven additional forest defenders being charged with domestic terrorism.
Police are claiming that Tortuguita “shot first” but have so far produced no evidence other than a handgun ostensibly found on the scene. Atlanta police are well known for faking evidence—for example, the well-known 2007 case in which officers were caught planting drugs on a scene that led to a federal investigation that described the department as having a “culture of corruption.” In all the previous raids of sites and the raids on Wednesday, no other firearms have been found in the forest defenders campgrounds.
As quoted in the header of this piece, Tortuguita professed non-violence in interviews taken just last month. On the other hand, police have already started using parts of the forest as a shooting range, polluting the area with debris and bothering people living and working in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The murder of Tortuguita is part of an ongoing intimidation and disruption campaign launched by Atlanta city and Dekalb County police with assistance from the federal government. Every time people from the communities in neighborhoods surrounding the planned Cop City construction are allowed to voice their opinions, they almost unanimously oppose the project. Unable to win the support of Atlanta residents, the Police Foundation and their capitalist allies are resorting to ever more extreme forms of repression against forest defenders. Prior to Wednesday’s cold-blooded killing, this included charging forest defenders with “domestic terrorism,” a massive attack on civil liberties.
There has been an outpouring of support in Atlanta and around the country for forest defenders. Since the police murder of Tortuguita, vigils and solidarity demonstrations have been organized nationwide. Organizations with national recognition have put out statements adamantly supporting the fight to Stop Cop City and putting the blame squarely on the police. One important example in the latter regard comes from 350.org national director Jeff Ordower, who released a statement that reads in part: “Tortuguita’s ‘crime’ was defending a forest in the heart of Atlanta—yet police moved in full force to evict the encampment, using their usual litany of brutal tactics. As we’ve seen all too often with police brutality, we can expect the usual false claims of ‘self-defense,’ coupled with an attempt to smear the victim and movement. Our movement will continue to stand up for intersectional justice—for the people and the planet.”
The cops and their capitalist backers have shown once again that they are willing to commit the most heinous crimes in the name of destroying ecosystems and the people that defend them. Climate, labor, anti-police, and all activists and people who care about basic civil rights and social justice must show that we will not stand for these attacks against us. An injury to one is an injury to all! Justice for Tortuguita! Stop Cop City!
See our accompanying article: https://workersvoiceus.org/2023/01/21/atlanta-police-kill-forest-defender/
Sign the statement by forest defenders! See: https://defendtheatlantaforest.org/solidarity/