‘Sadness in the whole forest’: family of Cop City activist killed by US police seeks answers

Manuel Paez Terán was protesting a planned Atlanta police training center when officers repeatedly shot and killed him. The activist, who went by the name Tortuguita, was one of dozens trying to protect the South River Forest from a $90m, 85-acre police and fire department training center planned for the site. The project is known as Cop City. His family find themselves in a spotlight with Tortuguita becoming what experts say is the first environmental activist killed while protesting in US history.

On a Thursday around noon last month, Joel Paez heard a knock on the door at his house in Chicago. Paez, who works from home managing a domestic violence intervention program, opened the door to see an officer from the Chicago police department. The officer asked Paez if he had a relative in Atlanta. Surprised, the Venezuelan-born social worker said, “Yes. My son.” The officer took out a pad, wrote down a phone number from Georgia, ripped out the sheet of paper and handed it to Paez. “Call this number, please,” the officer said. Then he pointed to the body cam on his chest, and said: “This is being recorded.” And he left.

Within minutes, Belkis Terán, Paez’s ex-wife and the mother of Manuel Paez Terán, called from Panama with the news: police had shot and killed their son the day before, on 18 January, after finding the 26-year-old activist camped in a forest south-east of Atlanta in Georgia.

The activist, who went by the name Tortuguita, was one of dozens trying to protect the South River Forest from a $90m (£75m), 85-acre (34-hectare) police and fire department training center planned for the site and, separately, a private developer’s land swap. The project is known as Cop City. Officials said Tortuguita fired at a Georgia state patrol trooper first, wounding the officer.

The death – and the broader fight over Cop City – have drawn interest from around the US and all over the world. Now Tortuguita’s family is demanding answers to the many questions they have about the shooting and the circumstances around it, not least the lack of body-cam footage. On Thursday night in Atlanta, Paez said: “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.”

Paez was referring to what is probably the biggest obstacle facing the family and others when it comes to discovering what happened on the morning of 18 January, when dozens of officers from multiple city, county, state and possibly federal agencies swarmed the forest. There is no body-cam recording of the shooting, according to the Georgia bureau of investigation (GBI), which took part in the sweep and is also tasked with investigating Tortuguita’s death….

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/feb/12/cop-city-manuel-paez-teran-family-mourns

The Birthplace of American Dystopia: Cop City, Atlanta