On January 18, during a routine police operation to clear protesters from the site of a future training facility dubbed “Cop City” on the wooded outskirts of Atlanta, shots were fired. When the smoke cleared, an activist was dead and a state trooper was injured.
Law enforcement officers, including a SWAT team, were violently evicting protesters who had occupied a wooded area outside the centre when they shot and killed veteran activist Manuel Terán, who called himself “Tortuguita.”
The city of Atlanta is pushing forward with a plan to build an expensive new police militarization complex in the middle of one of the city’s last remaining green spaces.
Cop City protesters
The police claim they were shot, although protesters dispute this version. We heard a statement from an Atlanta forest advocate about what happened and spoke with Kamau Franklin, an anti-Cop City activist and founder of the Atlanta Community Movement Builders organization.
Officers fatally shot a 26-year-old non-binary environmental activist who called himself Little Tortuga, or “Tort,” on the morning of January 18 as Georgia State Patrol troopers and other law enforcement officers worked to clear the Protesters from the site of the future police training centre.
Officers from various law enforcement agencies were conducting an operation to evict people from the area around 9 a.m. when someone fired at them and the officers responded in self-defence, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Mike Register said during a news conference. A soldier was shot in the abdomen and the man who fired at the officers died at the scene, the Register said.
The trooper was rushed to a hospital, where he underwent surgery, Georgia State Patrol Col. Chris Wright told reporters. The soldier’s vital signs are good and he is in stable condition, but he is in the intensive care unit and “not out of the woods yet,” Wright said.
The Register and Wright declined to identify the police officer or the slain man, citing the active investigation and the need to notify family members.
The Register said the “clean-up operation” was taking place in the same area where a handful of people were arrested last month and charged with domestic terrorism. DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said at the time that people attacked firefighters and police officers with rocks and guns as officers removed barricades blocking some entrances to the site.
What’s the whole matter?
In recent days, protesters descended on Atlanta and at times mayhem ensued, resulting in multiple arrests. On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called for a state of emergency ahead of more possible anti-police protests this weekend.
Opponents of the training centre have been protesting for more than a year by building platforms in the surrounding trees and camping on the site.
They say the $90 million project, to be built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, involves cutting down so many trees that it would be bad for the environment. They are also opposed to investing so much money in what they call “Cop City”, which they say will be used to practice “urban warfare”.
According to the foundation, the facility would encompass 150 acres of the 350-acre property. The training centre would be built on 85 acres, with the rest preserved as green space or a public park.
Under the foundation’s proposed funding structure, the city would contribute $30 million toward the total project of $90 million, either through a $1 million per year lease beginning in 2024 for a 30-year term, or through a general obligation bond.
Some residents have accused the city of surprising neighbours with what they said has been a largely secretive development process with little community involvement. Taxpayers will pay about $30 million of the cost of the facility, with the rest coming from private philanthropic and corporate donations, city officials said.
The Atlanta Police Foundation has said the planned training centre is needed to help boost morale and recruiting efforts, and that previous facilities used by law enforcement are substandard. But the installation, which will include a shooting range, a simulated city and a burning building, has met with fierce resistance.
Peaceful protest turns violent
Protesters marched in a “peaceful manner” down a downtown Atlanta street, but a group within the crowd then began “committing illegal acts” including breaking windows and attacking police vehicles, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said in a press conference.
Police are continuing to investigate whether other people were involved in illegal activities, the chief said. Three businesses had their windows damaged, he added.
Social media footage showed a burning police cruiser downtown, and video showed broken windows at a Wells Fargo bank.
The protests on Saturday were aimed at raising awareness about the Atlanta Police Foundation and some of the entities linked to it, said Sean Wolters, who works within the broad coalition of the Defend the Forest Atlanta movement, which opposes the installation.
The police killing on Wednesday was “indicative of a level of extreme escalation by the police,” Wolters said.
What is “COP City”?
For years, Atlanta police have trained officers at temporary facilities, but in 2021 the police department and its partners proposed building a facility to boost recruitment and retention efforts.
“We’re excited, because world-class cities have a world-class investment in their training, in their public safety first responders,” Deputy Chief Darin Schierbaum told CBS News Atlanta during an overview of the project. “Training is the lifeblood of any public safety organization.”
The $90 million, 85-acre facility, which includes a shooting range, simulated city and burning building, among other facilities, “will reimagine law enforcement training and community engagement.” Police/Fire Rescue community” said the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation which helps fund police initiatives through public-private partnerships in a statement on its website.
Who are the “defenders of the forest”?
Activists loosely connected through the Defend the Atlanta Forest grassroots network began pouring into the area after the facility was announced. For almost two years, the activists say they have been protesting the $90 million training campus by holding peaceful sit-ins in the woods.
The protest has drawn supporters from out of state to the Atlanta area. Their goal, they say in a statement on their website, is to protect an ecosystem “home to wetlands that filter rainwater and prevent flooding” and is “one of the last breeding grounds for many amphibians in the region.”
“The movement to prevent the development of Cop City is a fight against hundreds of years of racial violence and ecological destruction,” the website adds.
The activists draw inspiration from environmental advocates in other parts of the world, where deadly clashes and targeted killings are common. The Global Witness organization documented the murder of 200 environmental and land defenders, the majority in Latin America, in 2021 alone.
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