The United States has a long history of environmental protests. The police had never killed an activist – until now.
The murder last month of a non-binary activist known as ‘Tortuguita’, who was shot during an Occupy protest in Atlanta’s South River Forest, marked the first killing by police in Atlanta. a protester in the history of the American environmental movement.
Police entered the forest on January 18 after months of tension with activists who had camped in the area. Tortuguita was shot and seven others were arrested. It was the second police raid that resulted in arrests in about a month.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Tortuguita shot and injured a state trooper before officers returned fire. No body camera footage of the shooting is available, according to the office.
Lawyers for the Tortuguita family, whose full name is Manuel Esteban Páez Terán, question the police account of the shooting and say the GBI did not respond to family questions about the shooting.
“We’ve contacted them through every channel we have. We’ve received no response, no offers to share information with the family,” said Jeff Filipovits, an Atlanta-area civil rights attorney, in an interview. “They want to know what happened to their child.”
Protests against the Occupy have been a staple of environmental activism for decades, but the one in Atlanta was different. Where police had often been the go-between in previous protests, in Atlanta they acted like naysayers whose own interests — a development project for a police compound — were at the heart of the protest.
“There’s a long history of law enforcement dealing with direct action environmental activists and those confrontations turn hostile,” said Keith Woodhouse, an assistant professor at Northwestern University who has written a book on environmental activism. radical. “The big difference is that one of those activists was shot and killed, and that’s, I think, unprecedented in the United States.”
And in the age of modern protest, increasingly, environmentalists who might once have been narrowly targeted or branching off from other movements are now in the midst of a much wider web of societal issues.
“The issue of policing in the United States, the militarization of police forces, Black Lives Matter, all of these issues relate to protecting this forest for these activists,” Woodhouse said.