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Independent Probe Demanded After Police Kill Forest Defender “Tortuguita” in Georgia

"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," said one activist.

Manuel Teran, aka "Tortuguita"—"Little Turtle"—was shot and killed by police outside Atlanta, Georgia on January 18, 2022.,(Photo: Unicorn Riot)

Police accountability advocates on Thursday called for an independent investigation after an activist was shot and killed during a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement raid on a forest encampment blocking the construction of a massive police training center just outside Atlanta popularly known as Cop City.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Details surrounding the deadly encounter near the planned site of Atlanta's public safety center continued to trickle out Thursday, as a wounded state trooper recovered and left-wing activists both mourned a fallen comrade and questioned the official account of events.

At least seven other people, meanwhile, were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism in connection with Wednesday's law enforcement operation in the southern DeKalb County woods.

Activists tied to the "Defend the Forest" movement identified the person killed by law enforcement—after allegedly firing at troopers first—as Manuel Teran, aka "Tortuguita." Online posts described Teran as a "beloved member of the community" who split time between Atlanta and Florida.

"We are devastated by the loss of our friend who was killed by the police. Tortuguita was a kind, passionate, and loving person, cherished by their community," said a statement published on the Atlanta Community Press Collective website.

"We don't know what happened yesterday," the statement acknowledged, adding that Teran was killed while "defending the forest."

According toUnicorn Riot, "throughout the day and into the night, efforts to extract forest defenders from the trees continued, with arborists cutting down trees and tree houses in an effort to remove protesters."

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Jeff Ordower, North America director at the climate action group, said in a statement Thursday, "With heavy hearts, we stand with the Atlanta Forest Defenders and all of those who defend the land, the water, and the planet."

"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," he added. "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."

In an Instagram post, the activist group Stop Cop City said that "in Manuel's name, we continue to fight to protect the forest and stop Cop City with love, rage, and a commitment to each other's safety and well-being."

The Atlanta Police Foundation, a private organization, was given permission in 2021 to build Cop City, a $90 million, 85-acre police and fire training facility in the Weelaunee Forest in DeKalb County on land stolen from the Muscogee people, many of whom were forced westward during the genocidal Trail of Tears period.

In 2017, the area was designated one of four "city lungs" by the Atlanta City Planning Department, which recommended the forest become a massive urban park. Instead, Cop City was approved.

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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