Outrage after police slaying of Atlanta forest defender
Protests and vigils have been held across the US following the police slaying of environmental activist Manuel Teran, 26, also known as Tortuguita, on Jan. 18 in Georgia's Dekalb County. A protest over the killing turned violent in downtown Atlanta Jan. 21, with a police car burned, windows smashed, and several arrested. Tortuguita was shot in a police raid on an encampment in the Weelaunee Forest, a threatened woodland within the South River Forest conservation area. The Atlanta Police Foundation seeks to clear hundreds of acres in order to build a $90 million Public Safety Training Center, referred to as "Cop City" by local residents.
Authorities say a Georgia state trooper was also shot and injured in an "exchange of fire" during the raid, and that a handgun was recovered from the scene. Seven were arrested in the "clearing operation," and are said to face "domestic terrorism" charges. A total of 13 activists face such charges in the campaign to save the Weelaunee Forest.
"The Forest Defenders in Atlanta are trying to protect their community from the ever-increasing threat of climate catastrophe and militant policing," said Susi Durán, chair of National Lawyers Guild-Atlanta chapter. "In response to these protesters' righteous requests, Georgia State Patrol murdered Forest Defender Tortuguita. This is an unacceptable abuse of power and proves that more police will not make our communities safer."
Local communities largely oppose construction of the facility. Aside from diverting city funds away from community resources, they say building the facility will increase police surveillance of the predominantly Black neighborhoods near the forest, and contribute to erosion of the local watershed.
"In Atlanta and across the US, investment in police budgets comes at the expense of access to food, education, childcare, and healthcare, of affordable and stable housing, of parks and public spaces, of transit and the free movement of people, of economic stability for the many," organizers with Defend the Atlanta Forest said in a statement.
The 3,500-acre South River Forest is a newly designated greenbelt on Atlanta's eastern and southeastern fringe. It is a patchwork of municipal, county and private lands to be protected under easements arranged with aid from The Nature Conservancy. The City of Atlanta has nonetheless leased 380 acres within the proposed conservation area for the training facility, which is to be partly funded by private corporate donors.
A key aim of the conservation area is restoration of the South River watershed, which has degraded due to deforestation and use of the river for wastewater dumping. The South River's waters ultimately flow into the Altamaha River, which in turn empties into the Atlantic Ocean, while Atlanta's municipal supply mostly comes from the Chattahoochee, a tributary of the Apalachicola, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Rapidly shrinking water resources in the region have led to plans to pipe water to Atlanta from the Tennessee River, a tributary of the Ohio. This is opposed by Tennessee state authorities, resulting in a bitter dispute between Georgia and Tennessee. The controversy has highlighted the need to protect local water sources.