On Jan. 18, police killed a forest defender, Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, known as “Tortuguita” or “Tort,” and arrested six people, charging them with domestic terrorism and misdemeanors in an urban forest on the outskirts of the city of Atlanta. Since the city approved construction of a $90 million militarized police training facility in the forest in 2021, a diverse coalition of activists have campaigned to stop the project, which organizers call “Cop City.”
In response to the police shooting death of Tortuguita and other arrests, a “week of action” was organized from March 4-11, attracting people from across the country to join local opponents in the forest and in downtown Atlanta, demanding the city cancel the police training facility contract. During the protests, police arrested 23 more people who now face charges of domestic terrorism — accused of attacking officers and construction equipment with Molotov cocktails, fireworks and rocks on March 5.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who participated in the action, spoke with Connecticut residents Fiona Mac and Kat Morris, who both traveled to Atlanta. Here they talk about their experience during the weeks of protest. We hear first from Fiona Mac, who’s been organizing against Cop City in Connecticut since last year.
FIONA MAC: The beginning of the trip was really quite energetic and peaceful, definitely, felt more like a music festival. It started with a march that went very smoothly from Gresham Park into the woods with pretty much no police presence, large number of people and that transitioned naturally into the music festival in the park that lasted late into the night Saturday.
Sunday it continued with the music, and there were lots of people also setting up camp in the woods and doing different sorts of related training, like a direct action training in the woods and a
“know your rights training” downtown. So there were lots of different activities happening, including the ongoing music festival.
Then Sunday night the situation definitely changed a lot, following the rally at 5 p.m. and the direct action that took place and then the subsequent police raid and riot in the music festival. That’s kind of how the vibe has shifted and there hasn’t been a major escalation again from the police.
But there’s been a heavy police presence at a lot of the events in the “Week of Action,” but not so much in the woods as I understand, until the raid which is not downtown but not in the actual Atlanta forest either.
MELINDA TUHUS: What do you think is the significance of this effort to Stop Cop City?
FIONA MAC: The overall significance is definitely the way that it relates to so many different locations and so many different issues. Obviously, it’s very pertinent to issues of environmental justice as well as police violence and brutality, police militarization.
But you can also think about the implications of Cop City as more laws are passed related to abortion bans and drag bans, as housing becomes more volatile, how more militarized police training for mass movements in urban centers, like what implications it has for various different movements, like the wide response of people that have gotten into the fight, because of that.
There’s definitely a feeling that victory is still possible and that the cops are kind of scrambling and they’re getting desperate. There’s a general understanding that there is large support for the Stop Cop City movement and the number of people paying attention to Atlanta right now is a big part of the reason why police haven’t been more violent and more aggressive – mostly it’s just been verbal threat.
MELINDA TUHUS: That was Fiona Mac, one of a group of CT activists who traveled to Atlanta in early March for the Week of Action to Stop Cop City. Next is Kat Morris, a scholar-activist and independent journalist, who also traveled to Atlanta.
KAT MORRIS: I noticed that a lot of people are really just there to save the forest. I think that part of the narrative has been lost. I think a lot of the times it’s just Stop Cop City.
I’m making that distinction specifically because of how it ties into the narrative that is shared that anyone who is a forest defender, anyone who is in support of this movement is a violent extremist, and I find that extremely concerning, particularly as it relates to environmentalists having their First Amendment right – their freedom to assemble, their freedom of speech and the freedom of press to be able to bear witness to what’s happening in real time without being threatened with really life-altering charges that, again, discourage people from using their First Amendment right.
But also it prevents people from standing up for something that could have really strong ecological impacts for the Atlanta and the DeKalb County community, as well as for the overall planet. I think it’s something that’s extremely important with respect to the direction we’re going in for the decades to come, knowing everything we know about climate change and how important everything we do right now is.
I invite everyone to be really critical about the narratives they’re hearing about forest defenders, particularly anything that challenges someone’s right to assemble, someone’s right to protest. I think we have to pay really close attention to what this means for Atlanta, because it may or may not be foreshadow for your own backyard.
Learn more about the “Stop Cop City” campaign by visiting Stop Cop City at stopcop.city and Stop Cop City Solidarity at stopcopcitysolidarity.org. Visit Defend the Atlanta Forest on Facebook at facebook.com/
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