By JOHN JOSEPH
On the morning of Jan. 18, heavily armed members of the Dekalb Police, Atlanta Police, and Georgia State Patrol raided the encampments and tree-sits of those who have been occupying the Weelaunee (South Atlanta) forest, activists who have become known colloquially as forest defenders. The raid resulted in multiple arrests, but most importantly, in the murder of a forest defender now identified as Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran. Teran had come to Atlanta to take part in the occupation and offer their expertise as a medic to the movement. The police now claim that Tortuguita fired on officers and hit a Georgia State Patrol officer. However, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation says there is no body-cam footage of to verify the claim.
There is ample reason to doubt the police narrative, not just because there is a history of friendly fire incidents in the recent past. Just last year, Cobb County police shot each other in a botched “wellness check.” In 2015, Dekalb police shot each other and a homeowner, responding to the wrong house.
In addition, the police have a long history of lying. In Atlanta, the police spent years lying about the circumstances of the death of Kathryn Johnson, a 92-year old grandmother that the police murdered on Nov. 21, 2006. In that case, they lied to get the warrant, lied about what happened in the house, planted false evidence, and lied about their wounds—all the result of friendly fire.
This raid on forest defenders and those that have preceded it are further evidence of the very reason a broad coalition of community, activist, and left groups oppose Cop City in the first place. The police exist to enforce the will of the rich and the state upon the rest of us. They murder your friend, your sibling, your parent, your grandparent for occupying public space or being the subject of a wellness-check or looking “suspicious.”
Not only will no amount of training fix this problem, but the training Georgia officers receive often comes by way of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE), which partners with police forces of various countries in order to share training and experience. Most prominently and importantly, the Israeli police and their anti-terrorist unit take part. And so, police who may have been trained in Israeli policing tactics murdered an activist to facilitate the destruction of trees so that these same tactics can be more widely disseminated. They’ve learned much from their peers, who murder activists and uproot olive tree groves in Palestine to facilitate ethnic cleansing and colonial settlement.
We have one clear option in this brutal system—we must resist and organize to overthrow it. In this moment, we must come together and build the durable organizations of struggle capable of fighting back, and most importantly, winning a better world. In memory of this fallen forest defender and all those killed for fighting for a better world.
DROP THE CHARGES ON THE FOREST DEFENDERS! STOP COP CITY! DEFEND THE FOREST!
Photo: Tortuguita, presente!