March 3, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Eugene activists mourn police killing of forest defender

4 min read
Eugene forest defenders mourned Manuel 'Tortuguita' Terán, who was shot and killed by police Jan. 18, 2023 while protecting trees in the South River watershed in Southeast Atlanta.

DJ Suss D: The City of Atlanta plans to build what would be one of the largest police training facilities in the country in an urban forest surrounding the ruins of a notorious prison work farm.

[00:00:11] The site is in a polluted section of watershed where the Muskogee tribe lived for thousands of years. 75% of the 380-acre site in Southeast Atlanta is surrounded by African-Americans who are opposed to the project, according to Community Movement Builders, a Black member-based collective of community-based residents serving Black working-class and poor Black communities.

[00:00:36] The facility leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation, an advisory group known for creating the most surveilled city in America, would feature military grade training facilities, a mock city to practice urban warfare and train for active shooting incidents, dozens of shooting ranges, and a Black Hawk helicopter landing pad.

[00:00:56] At the project announcement in April of 2021, then-Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said this is a long-needed improvement to substandard training conditions, and as part of their response to the preventative social welfare funding increases, advocated by the Defund the Police movement that peaked amid protest of the George Floyd murder by Minneapolis Police and the Rayshard Brooks shooting by Atlanta Police just weeks after.

[00:01:23] Keisha Lance Bottoms: We have to be thoughtful about building this facility in a way that is considerate of taxpayer funding. Thankfully, we have some philanthropic support, corporate support that will give us to the tune of $60 million by the time it’s all said and done with another $30 million coming from the City of Atlanta.

[00:01:48] So this notion that we somehow cannot, or that we somehow can exist in society without public safety is simply ludicrous. But what we do want, and I want the same things you want, is for us to have positive interactions with the men and women who serve us.

[00:02:09] And I truly believe that the creation of this public safety training facility where we can train with the expectations that people will treat our communities with respect, that they will be given the most up-to-date training, not to serve as warriors in our communities, but to serve as guardians in our communities.

[00:02:32] DJ Suss D: In a recent interview with Al Jazeera Plus, City Council Member Michael Julian Bond and Chair of the Public Safety Committee Dustin Hillis, say they performed due diligence.

[00:02:43] Michael Julian Bond (Atlanta City Council): I’m a citywide representative. I move around the city constantly. There were multiple chances for the public to speak.

[00:02:51] Dustin Hillis (Atlanta City Council): I’ve never been to a neighborhood planning unit meeting or a neighborhood meeting, uh, where I have been told we don’t want this.

[00:02:58] DJ Suss D: Since late 2021, forest defenders have occupied the area and vandalized equipment related to the project.

[00:03:03] Now, a defender has been killed by police who claim they were returning fire. Defenders have denied firing at the police and are calling for an independent investigation. The Georgia Investigation Bureau has reported there is no body camera footage. This is from an anonymous statement sent to Democracy Now.

[00:03:20] Democracy Now: They ask to remain anonymous and for their voice to be distorted for security reasons.

[00:03:26] Anonymous: On Wednesday, Jan. 18, multiple police departments descended upon Weelaunee People’s Park in unprecedented numbers and force. They blocked access to the park on both roads and bike trails. Some people were arrested for attempting to document police actions that day at the park.

[00:03:50] Gunfire was heard at 9:04 AM about a dozen shots fired in rapid succession, followed by a loud boom about a minute later. For hours after the murder of Tortuguita, police continued to hunt, assault, and arrest our brave forest defenders. those defenders and trees were targeted with pepper bullets. One tree sitter had their tree house, which stored food and water cut from beneath them. They were left without food and water for over 12 hours up in the tree as police waited at the base of the tree to capture them.

[00:04:34] This same tree sitter continued to stay in their tree until the next morning when they were arrested. Other forest defenders were chased by police dogs. These defenders had to hide and flee for their lives, all the while with the nauseating knowing that their dear comrade had been murdered in the sacred land that we call home.

[00:04:56] Six people have been arrested for vandalism in the latest of a series of arrests around protests.

[00:05:03] ] DJ Suss D: For KEPW News, I’m DJ Suss D.

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