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On the morning of January 18, during a routine police operation to remove protesters from the site of a future training facility dubbed “Cop City” in the wooded suburbs of Atlanta, shots were fired. When the smoke cleared, one worker was killed and a state trooper was injured. Questions about what happened have made the case a flashpoint in the national debate about policing and environmental activism.
The killing of Manuel Esteban Pez Terran, a “guardian of the jungle” known as Tortogueta (or Little Tortoise in Spanish), has raised many questions among activists. Protests against the killing have resulted in a pushback from law enforcement and supporters.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said the shooting was not recorded on body cameras. Police said the gun used in the shooting against the soldier was purchased by Teran in September 2020. On Wednesday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that a special prosecutor would be assigned to review the case, but critics are calling for an independent investigation.
In recent days, protesters have descended on Atlanta, and at times have been chaotic, leading to numerous arrests. On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp A state of emergency was called ahead of more possible anti-police protests later this week.
Mistrust and anger on both sides has been rampant.
“The official narrative is that ‘Cop City’ is necessary to make Atlanta ‘safe,’ but this brutal murder shows what they mean when they use that word,” Defend the Atlanta Forest, A grassroots organization that has led protests against internment. The center said in a statement after the shooting.
Authorities, on the other hand, point to vandalism and alleged attacks on officers to discredit the protesters. “These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are criminal acts designed to destabilize communities and endanger citizens,” Michael Register, director of the Georgia State Bureau of Investigation, the agency investigating the shooting, said earlier this week. ”
This is what we know about what led to the current tense and volatile standoff between protesters and officers in Georgia.
What is “Police City”?
For years, Atlanta police have trained officers in temporary facilities, but in 2021 the police department and partners proposed building a facility to boost recruitment and retention efforts.
“We’re excited, because first-class cities have a first-class investment in their training, in their public safety first responders,” Deputy Chief Darren Schierbaum said. told CBS News Atlanta During a review of the project. “Training is the lifeblood of any public safety organization.”
The Atlanta Police Foundation said the $90 million, 85-acre center, which includes a shooting range, mock city and burn building, among other facilities, “reinstates law enforcement training and police/fire rescue community engagement.” will imagine,” said the Atlanta Police Foundation, a non-profit that helps fund police initiatives through private-public contributions, in a statement on its website.
But the training center attracted opposition almost immediately, during a turbulent year of high-profile cases of police brutality and strained community relations. “We’re talking about spending millions of taxpayer dollars to fund yet another failed proposal that will only line the pockets of wealthy people and not actually solve the problems of our time,” James said. Woodall, a policy associate with the Southern Center for Human Rights, told CBS News Atlanta. “City council members have even admitted it won’t affect crime,” he added.
During the City Council’s vote on the proposal, public comments lasted for 17 hours. Many pre-recorded messages were sentimental against the facility.
Who are the “Guardians of the Forest”?
Activists loosely connected through the grassroots network Defend the Atlanta Forest began arriving in the area after the facility was announced. For nearly two years, activists say they have been protesting the $90 million training campus through peaceful sit-ins in the forest. The protests have 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 “the many amphibians that thrive in the region.” is one of the last places of the species.”
“The movement to stop the development of Cop City is a war against racial violence and environmental destruction that has been going on for hundreds of years,” the website adds.
Activists take inspiration from environmentalists in other parts of the world, where deadly clashes and targeted killings are common. An organization called Global Witness has documented this. 200 environmental and land defenders killed, Mostly in Latin America, only in 2021.
As part of their protest, activists set up campsites, filed petitions, and hosted rallies and educational events. On their website, they also admit that they vandalized properties owned by the Police Foundation and contractors, and vandalized construction equipment.
What comes next?
Clashes between the police and workers are increasing in the area.
The GBI director said officers have been deployed to the site several times to protect crews trying to begin construction. In May, Atlanta police arrested eight people after a raid on the site, alleging that the suspects had thrown Molotov cocktails and rocks at officers.
In December, five people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism and other charges after allegedly throwing rocks and bottles at the training center, officials said. The DeKalb District Attorney’s Office told CBS News it is pursuing domestic terrorism charges against the five protesters. One of the arrested protesters, Ariel Abaugh, 22, of Stockbridge, Georgia, has been charged with two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, the DA’s office said.
Tensions have escalated since the assassination of Terran and show no signs of abating anytime soon.
On Saturday, masked protesters dressed in all black threw rocks and fireworks in front of a skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation, shattering large glass windows. Protesters also torched a police vehicle and vandalized walls with anti-police graffiti.
Governor Camp’s state of emergency has put 1,000 members of the Georgia National Guard on alert, ready to deploy. The state of emergency is currently in effect till February 9.