February 16, 2023
ATLANTA, GA — Nearly two years after the beginning of the movement to Defend the Atlanta Forest, Georgia State Patrol officers murdered an activist found alone in the forest. Repressive forces continue their legacy of attacking civil rights protesters in Atlanta, supposedly “The City Too Busy to Hate.” The people of Atlanta have had enough. We will no longer accept “The Atlanta Way,” the backroom deals made between corporations and those in city government who pledge to support their constituents. Atlanta is not for sale. We are fighting against corruption and tyranny, we are fighting to defend public space and the right to protest.
Each time our enemies attack, we stand up, we fight back, and our power is growing. Neighbors of the Weelaunee Forest, prominent environmental and civil rights organizations, students, doctors, teachers, lawyers, journalists, school children, local business owners, religious groups, even local government officials and members of congress—everyone is uniting against deforestation, unbridled development of urban space, and police brutality. We will no longer be accessories to our own subjugation. Not one blade of grass.
On the Murder of Tortuguita
Tortuguita “Tort” Paez Teran was murdered by a squad of Georgia State Patrol officers who report directly to Georgia governor, Brian Kemp. Tort, just twenty-six years old, was shot at least 13 times by state patrol officers who continue to roam Georgia streets, not facing any consequences after taking a life. After claiming there was no body camera footage relevant to Tort’s death, the Atlanta Police Department released video from officers on the ground that day.
In this footage, after some muddled radio chatter, an Atlanta police officer can be heard clearly asking, “Is this target practice?” and “Man, you fucked your own officer up.” While this is the most publicized clip from the footage, it is not the only important one. Before the evident friendly fire incident, the cops also discuss whether or not protestors were shooting at them:
“They’re shooting at us,” one officer says softly.
“Na, that sounded like suppressed gunfire,” the officer next to him responds.
“Yeah, it did,” another officer replies.
A drone, presumably capturing footage of the day’s events can also be heard in the video, although no drone footage has been released. The officers in the video shoot pepper balls into an empty tent and proceed to walk into their own chemical spray, which causes them to cough heavily.
Regarding this tragedy, Tort’s family had these messages among others: “We are horrified by all that has happened to Manuel [Tort]. I never thought taking care of a park would be a dangerous thing.” – Belkis Terán, Tort’s mother
“They didn’t use body cams when they killed my son – but they did use them when they came to inform me about killing my son.” – Joel Paez, Tort’s father
“My call to action goes to police officers… forcefully stop each other from killing civilians.” – Daniel Paez, Tort’s brother
After taking Tort’s life on the morning of January 18, 2023, police officers continued to make multiple arrests of other forest defenders, charging them with domestic terrorism, and arborists continued their destructive work cutting down trees. This abhorrent disregard for life is what we are fighting against. Tortuguita’s murder and the use of the law in this manner are firsts in the history of US environmental activism. To date, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (who lead the police operation during which Tortuguita was killed) have refused to name Tortuguita’s killers, meet with the grieving Paez family, or cooperate in turning over evidence to an independent investigation.
Autopsy results indicated Tort was shot in the palm. Were their hands raised? What is the GBI covering up? These are the questions that the family and community demand be answered. However, the GBI are stonewalling, refusing transparency.
On Mounting Pressure
Our enemies, who are working to make Cop City a reality, have been acting with a panicky desperation, and it shows. Construction for this project—originally named the “Atlanta Institute for Social Justice and Public Safety Training”—was supposed to start quietly in May 2022, without public input, after various backroom meetings between former Mayor Bottoms, investors, contractors, city council, and other government officials. Since the inception of this project, there has been backlash from local groups such as the South River Watershed Alliance (SRWA) and the South River Forest Coalition. DeKalb county and city of Atlanta residents along with other civil and environmental rights activists joined the fight and began organizing around the Defend the Atlanta Forest, Stop Cop City movement in April 2021. After nearly two years, with the proliferation of a strong, beautiful movement, our foes continue to find themselves on the back foot, acting out of fear. What are they afraid of? What does this movement threaten?
The Guardian put it clearly, “Opposition to development in South River forest has included neighborhood associations, established environmental groups such as the Sierra Club’s Georgia chapter, local schools, Atlanta-area citizens and others. About 70% of more than 1,000 comments to Atlanta city council in advance of their September 2021 vote on the project also opposed the project, according to an independent analysis.”
The original general contractor to build Cop City, Reeves-Young, dropped their contract with the project on April 28, 2022. Quality Glass Co dropped their contract with Brasfield and Gorrie, the replacement general contractors, on February 6, 2023.
Atlanta University Center students have denounced Cop City and current Mayor Andre Dickens. Morehouse faculty wrote an open letter to that same effect. The Atlanta HBCUs are united against Mayor Dickens’ actions and his support of Cop City.
Over 1,300 climate justice groups are calling for Dickens’ resignation.
Dr. Claire Sterk, the former president of Emory University, stepped down from her position on the Atlanta Police Foundation’s (APF) Board of Trustees amid mounting pressure. Over 100 Emory Healthcare students and professionals signed and published a document demanding she and Dr. Douglas Murphy resign from the APF Board of Trustees.
Large protests of students, alumni, faculty, and staff have occurred on the Georgia Tech campus against Cop City.
Mayor Dickens and DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond announced the approval of the land disturbance permit January 31, 2023; however, this was appealed one week later by Amy Taylor, a member of the training center’s own Atlanta City Council-appointed review committee and representative of the Starlight Heights neighborhood. “My community doesn’t want this,” Taylor said. Taylor was joined in her appeal by DeKalb District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry and the SRWA.
Another member of the review committee, Nicole Morado, resigned January 18, 2023, the day Tort was murdered, adding, “It doesn’t sit well with me, to be affiliated with a project that has resulted in somebody’s life being taken.” Three members of Congress, Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush and Senator Ed Markey, have echoed calls for an independent investigation into Tortuguita’s death.
Alex Joseph resigned from the DeKalb County Board of Ethics because the “Board seems determined to conduct business in closed door meetings.” Two other members of the Board followed suit.
After Tortuguita was murdered, Defend the Atlanta Forest released a statement of solidarity against this horrific event and police escalation, against the destruction of the forest, and the building of Cop City. As of February 15, 2023, this letter has over 4100 signatures from 643 organizations and 3502 individuals. Signatories hail from all 50 states and over 40 countries.
A week of solidarity has been announced for February 19-26, 2023, encouraging people to protest, organize and take action wherever they are. Thus far, there are public events planned in 38 cities outside of Atlanta: Phoenix (AZ), Tucson (AZ), Arcata (CA), Berkeley (CA), Los Angeles (CA), Oakland (CA), San Francisco (CA), Fort Collins (CO), East Hartford (CT), Stamford (CT), Orlando (FL), Athens (GA), Savannah (GA), Boise (ID), Carbondale (IL), Urbana (IL), Boston (MA), Baltimore (MD), Detroit (MI), Minneapolis (MN), Charlotte (NC), Winston-Salem (NC), Bedford (NH), NYC (NY), Westchester County (NY), Cincinnati (OH), Cleveland (OH), Columbus (OH), Eugene (OR), Portland (OR), Philadelphia (PA), Austin (TX), Dallas (TX), Salt Lake City (UT), Richmond (VA), South Burlington (VT), Olympia (WA) and London (UK). Protests, rallies, sit-ins, teach-ins, call-ins, family friendly events, and film screenings are just some examples of events planned for the week of solidarity. If there is an event planned in your city, please email a flier to and/or add the event to the calendar.
A new chapter in this movement is beginning. As our enemies fight among each other, pointing fingers and once again losing the initiative, we are expanding. Our collective might and will is growing at home in Atlanta and everywhere. Our message remains the same: Cop city must never be built – not here, not anywhere. Not one blade of grass! Not one tree! Free the prisoners, drop the charges! Cancel Cop City completely. Reverse the land theft of Intrenchment Creek Park. Drop the charges against all protesters. Turn over evidence to the family of the protester killed by police. Our fight is far from over.
A mass mobilization convergence is announced for Atlanta March 4-11, 2023. This will be the fifth Week of Action since the struggle to Stop Cop City began.
You are encouraged to come to the forest, to experience being together beneath the canopy. You are invited to stay for as long as you like. In the Weelaunee forest, you are welcome.