A candlelight vigil honoring Tortuguita (also known as Manuel Esteban Paez Teran) was held in Atlanta’s Little Five Points on Jan. 18. Photo by Logan C. Ritchie.

Activists in Atlanta and across the United States are gathering in support of a protester who was shot and killed on Jan. 18 on property where the city of Atlanta plans to build a massive public safety training center.

“While we understand this is a local issue … we also know this is a national problem, this is a global problem,” said Jasmine Burnett, organizing director of Community Movement Builders, an Atlanta-based, Black-led collective that organizes against gentrification. 

Organizers from Berkeley to Charlotte are ramping up protests and candlelight vigils to “Defend the Forest” and “Stop Cop City.” Fifty demonstrators gathered outside the construction firm Brasfield & Gorrie in Charlotte in June 2022. The following month, the doors were chained with bike locks according to The Charlotte Observer. 

More gatherings are planned for this week, in Atlanta and beyond.

Gunfire erupted in the forest when 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, also known as Tortuguita (they/them), was shot and killed. A Georgia State police officer was also shot, sending him to Grady Hospital where he is recovering. Seven protesters were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. 

Accounts of Teran recall a peaceful community builder who believed in non-violence.

Kamau Franklin, founder of Community Movement Builders, said on Democracy Now that protesters were “sitting in tree huts” when the GBI approached. 

“These folks were doing absolutely nothing but being in force as far as defenders at the time of their arrest,” said Franklin. “They were raided by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Folks were sitting in trees huts where all of their camp equipment was destroyed. Rubber bullets were used. Guns were pointed at their heads. They were involved at that particular time in no activity whatsoever except for the act of being in the forest.”

Through social media, plans have been made in Austin, Minneapolis, Nashville, Chicago, Charlotte, New Haven, Berkeley and Portland, Wash., calling for “a night of rage.” In Charlotte, protesters are planning to gather outside of Bank of America plaza, calling for people to “close your Bank of America accounts.” 

Protesters have been active since 2021, when the police facility was approved by city of Atlanta officials under former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The training facility will have a mock-up of a town, a firefighting training tower, emergency vehicle operations course, classroom space, a firing range and space for an emergency helicopter landing. 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said no body cam footage is available. In a press release, the GBI said approximately 25 campsites were located and removed. A handgun and shell casings were located at the scene. Additionally, mortar style fireworks, multiple edged weapons, pellet rifles, gas masks and a blow torch were recovered. 

“Civil disobedience is not accepted when the police want to build a highly militarized training ground,” said Franklin. 

Franklin said legal support for those arrested is coming from the Atlanta Solidarity Fund.

He added: “We are continually supporting the organizers and activists who were arrested. We are gathering bail funds. We’re getting lawyers for these folks. Another bail hearing is scheduled for the 27th, so right now we need as much solidarity and support as possible to support these folks and to continue to fight against cop city being built.”

Calls from local organizations were expected to reach Mayor Andre Dickens’ office today.

Logan C. RitchieStaff Writer

Logan C. Ritchie writes features and covers Brookhaven for Rough Draft Atlanta.