Countless police officers with SWAT gear driving armoured personnel carriers descended on a forest outside of Atlanta on Monday morning for a “clearing operation,” as construction crews moved into position to work on the $90m Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, a controversial police training centre project that’s been the site of “Stop Cop City” protests and occupations since it was proposed in 2021.
Agencies including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and Atlanta Police Department were present during the operation, local news reports.
At the same time as Monday’s police deployment, the family of Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Terán, a forest protester who was fatally shot during a similar police operation last month, gathered at the nearby Dekalb County Courthouse to call for accountability.
“We are horrified by all that has happened…it does not make sense to me,” Belkis Terán said. “Killing a person who was sleeping in the forest does not make sense to me.”
Police claim Terán fired unprovoked on officers, while family members and activists say they have reason to doubt that account, describing Tortuguita as a pacifist who wouldn’t fire on an approaching SWAT team.
Local residents have described hearing a hail of gunfire on the day Terán was killed, far more than the sounds of an existing police gun range nearby.
“It was death by firing squad,” Kamau Franklin, a local activist with the group Community Movement Builders, added at the family’s press conference on Monday. “It was a murder.”
An outside autopsy of the slain demonstrator shows Terán was shot at least 13 times.
“The family needs answers,” civil rights attorney Jeff Filipovits said at the event on Monday. “So far we’ve had selective information released by the GBI. They are not answering questions. They are not providing the family with any information to understand what happened in the forest.”
Police say records show the activist purchased a pistol in 2020, which was recovered at the crime scene.
The GBI, one of the agencies whose officials were involved in the operation that resulted in Terán’s death, is investigating the killing. It says there isn’t body camera footage of what happened.
The police training facility, dubbed “Cop City“ by opponents, has attracted widespread local opposition on a variety of fronts.
The $90m facility, which will include mock urban environments for militarised police training, is being financed in part by the privately backed Atlanta Police Foundation, and critics say it harms the environment, wipes out valuable green space, desecrates Native American land, and was passed by the Atlanta city council despite vigorous community disapproval during public comment sessions.
Law enforcement officials have continued to ratchet up pressure on protesters seeking to halt the construction, charging at least 19 people with domestic terrorism for their involvement in the movement, though an analysis of their arrest documents by Grist shows “none of those arrested and slapped with terrorism charges are accused of seriously injuring anyone” and most of the charges are based on the equivalent of misdemeanor trespassing.
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