This guest blog was written by Denali Nalamalapu, Communications Direction with POWHR.
On January 18, 2023, Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán was murdered by a Georgia State Police Officer while defending the Weelaunee Forest (also known as the South River Forest) in Atlanta, Georgia from ‘Cop City’, a destructive and widely opposed police and fire department training facility.
Tortuguita was an Indigenous Venezuelan of Timoto-Cuica descent. They used they/them pronouns. They were queer and nonbinary. They were a forest defender. They were 26-years-old. You can read more about Tortuguita here and donate to their family here.
‘Cop City’ would increase police presence and budgets in a time when many people in the US are trying to dismantle the police system, especially after the murder of George Floyd. It would also involve deforestation during a climate crisis.
The city of Atlanta has the highest percentage of tree canopy in any major metropolitan area in the US. This tree canopy helps ensure Atlanta’s resilience to climate change. The wetlands in the area filter rainwater and prevent flooding. It is a breeding ground for amphibians and a migration site for wading birds.
European colonizers stole the land from the Moscogee Creek peoples. It was then turned into a plantation. In the early 1900s, a prison farm was built. Inmates were forced to do unpaid agricultural labor. This shows a broader trend of how slavery in the US shifted to for-profit prison labor. Currently, the Atlanta Police Department uses the land as a firing range.
The Police Department gave community members no warning or change for input into their plans to turn 300 acres of the forest into a $90 million tactical training compound with a mock city.
A major Hollywood film production company also wants part of the land. They want to clear cut 170 acres to build an airport and the largest sound stage in America. Hollywood’s increased presence has already caused significantly raised housing prices in Atlanta, where it is hard enough to find housing.
Community organizers have done a lot of public advocacy to stop ‘Cop City’, including approaching the City Council, the legislature, and writing letters. They say all approaches have been responded to with force. Atlanta resistance submitted 1,166 public comments. Most residents were against the project. Several community groups representing surrounding neighborhoods were against the project. The Council still approved the lease.
Atlanta is a historically Black city. The unconsensual encroachment of police and corporations falls in the context of rampant environmental racism, police violence, and corporate power hoarding.
In 2017, a city planning proposal prompted plans to invest in a 1,200 acre park around the river’s tributaries. This is the kind of change Atlanta residents want.
The history of this project and the movement to stop it holds a lot of parallels to the Mountain Valley Pipeline fight, including that it is unwanted by the community and that community organizers face a lot of push back and obstacles when they try to speak out against it.
To learn more about the project, join us on February 21st at 7 pm ET on Zoom for a teach-in with community organizers in #StopMVP and #StopCopCity, and visit the South River Watershed Alliance and Defend the Atlanta Forest.