Context of Killing Tortuguita

Why has the killing of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán (Tortuguita) affected me so profoundly? Does it bother you?

One of the main reasons I write so much is to help me understand things. This is the tenth article I’ve written about Tortuguita. (

One thing I’m realizing this morning from the article quoted below, Fred Hampton and Mumia’s Stories Shed Light on Tortuguita, is that, of course, the genocide of millions of Indigenous people in this country were killed defending Mother Earth.

Tortuguita’s story is yet another one related to power and oppression. These stories have enhanced significance as the political climate is becoming increasingly, rapidly authoritarian. Fueled by outrageous political trampling of our First Amendment rights. And taking away the processes by which we were sometimes able to affect change. Such as voting rights, and blatant attempts to enforce White supremacy.

Dissent must be violently put down if authoritarianism is to succeed. The public must be terrorized, afraid to resist any of the increasingly extreme measures targeting our freedom. Violently enforced by increasingly militaristic police. I remember how shocked I was when first seeing police in military gear, using military vehicles to quell the riots from another police killing. That of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Sadly, that is now routine.

Armies of officials are clothed in uniform, invested with authority, armed with the instruments of violence & death & conditioned to believe that they can intimidate, maim or kill Negroes with the same recklessness that once motivated the slaveowner.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It has never been easy to get people to come to protests. But it is now even more so. It wasn’t surprising that only nine of us showed up yesterday in solidarity to stop “Cop City”. And not surprising to see Atlanta officials moving forward on the “Cop City” facility.

Des Moines, Iowa, 1/31/2013,

ATLANTA (AP) — In the wake of the shooting death of an environmental activist, Atlanta-area officials reiterated Tuesday that they are moving forward with plans to construct a huge police and firefighter training center that protesters derisively refer to as “Cop City.”

It was one of officials’ most full-throated defenses of a plan that has faced consistent pushback from both locals and out-of-state leftist activists, some of whom moved into the South River Forest over a year ago and built platforms in surrounding trees. Self-described “forest defenders” say the project involves cutting down so many trees that it would be environmentally damaging. They also oppose investing so much money in a project which they say will be used to practice “urban warfare.”

Despite ‘Cop City’ protests, Atlanta moves forward with plan by R.J. RICO, Associated Press, Jan 31, 2023

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. Today, we are talking about the struggle to Stop Cop City in Atlanta and DeKalb County, Georgia, and the death of forest defender Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who was gunned down by police on the morning of January 18. The Guardian has called the deadly shooting “unprecedented” in the history of U.S. environmental protest. While the killing of protesters, including environmentalists, is not unprecedented by any means in this country, law enforcement entering a forest occupation and killing a protester does mark an escalation of state violence for this era. Co-strugglers have described Terán as “a trained medic, a loving partner, a dear friend, a brave soul, and so much more.”

The Death of a Forest Defender at “Stop Cop City” by Kelly Hayes, TRUTHOUT, January 26,2023

We must not sever this shooting from the legacies of violence that clarify the character of the system and purpose of law enforcement.

Kelly Hayes & Alana Yu-lan Price

Tortuguita is not here to tell us their side of the story. But while Tortuguita cannot speak, there are voices among us who can lend us more insight and context in this moment.

There are people among us who can offer such insight because these events have a lineage. Experts have declared that Tortuguita’s killing marks the first time that an environmental activist has been killed by U.S. law enforcement. While their death does mark a historic escalation in these times, it is not altogether unprecedented, and we are unlikely to make sense of these events unless we consider them in their historic and global contexts. For example, many people in this country have died defending the Earth, as Indigenous people were resisting the destruction of the natural world while also resisting the acts of genocide committed against them, because to Native communities, this resistance was one and the same — defending their own lives, and defending the land and water.

I see the life and death of Tortuguita through the lens of nearly four decades spent in the struggle to free veteran Black Panther and MOVE sympathizer Mumia Abu-Jamal, as well as to monitor the human rights of political prisoners who are “invisible men and women” in the United States.

I am struck first by the fact that in the name of building “Cop City,” the public space we occupy, the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the streets we live in, become crime scenes. Just as Mumia was driving while Black, just as Rayshard Brooks was sleeping while Black, just as Elijah McClain was going home while Black. Just as wild species are driven out because of deforestation.

One deja vu aspect of the police narrative spun by the police agencies in Tortuguita’s case is the criminalization of the victim. Tortuguita, as the police tale goes, is supposed to have shot first. Are we really to believe that the gentle, peace-loving, highly intelligent Tortuguita — as quotes from him now show — would have shot at a police officer, knowing how many were present? After Tortuguita’s brother phoned the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to find out how his sibling died, he concluded: “They’re not investigating the death of Manuel — they’re investigating Manuel.”

Fred Hampton and Mumia’s Stories Shed Light on Tortuguita, Julia Wright Says. Veteran Black Panther Julia Wright explains what we should remember about the past in order to understand this moment by Kelly Hayes & Alana Yu-lan Price, TRUTHOUT

We need an independent investigation and an autopsy not only of the body of a beloved freedom fighter, but of the corporate body politic capable of such a crime. Independent research is needed from liberation movement to liberation movement that will help build resistance to state terrorism — a resistance that will link one ground zero to another, from Flint, Michigan, to Jackson, Mississippi; from Standing Rock to chlordecone-contaminated Martinique; from Mumia’s Philadelphia to Atlanta’s Forest Defenders.

Fred Hampton and Mumia’s Stories Shed Light on Tortuguita

Tortuguita’s cautious voice rang out from a platform amid the tall pines the first time Vienna met them: “Who goes there?” she remembers them calling. The tree-dweller, who chose the moniker Tortuguita – Spanish for “Little Turtle” – over their given name, was perched above the forest floor in the woods just outside Atlanta last summer. Vienna quickly identified herself, and Tortuguita’s watchfulness melted into the bubbly, curious, funny persona so many in the forest knew. They welcomed the newcomer and helped her settle in alongside the other self-proclaimed “forest defenders” on an 85-acre (34-hectare) site officials plan to develop into a huge police and firefighter training center. Protesters derisively call it “Cop City.”

“It was a magical experience for me, being able to live out our ideals,” Vienna told The Associated Press, recalling how the protesters shared clothing, food and money, all while engaging in community activism. She and Tortuguita quickly fell in love during those warm, late summer days.

Protesters: ‘Cop City’ activist’s killing doesn’t make sense BY R.J. RICO, ASSOCIATED PRESS, JANUARY 30, 2023

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