Movement for Black Lives Statement on Police Murder of Forest Defender Tortuguita
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 27, 2023
After a Georgia State Patrol Officer violently killed beloved forest defender Manuel Esteban Páez Terán, known to friends and loved ones as Tortuguita, on January 18, The Black Hive — the Movement for Black Lives’ climate and environmental justice initiative — issued the following statement:
We are heartbroken for Tortuguita and their family, and are once again asking ourselves why our people must be gunned down fighting for change. The police, who claim there is no video of the incident, were the sole witnesses to this killing and have not released the details of Tortuguita’s death. This is unacceptable. We demand justice for Tortuguita and full accountability for those responsible for their death.
Tortuguita was encamped, fighting against the “Cop City” project, trying to stop the destruction of 85 acres of the Weelaunee forest in the backyard of a Black working-class neighborhood.
To be clear: robbing a forest from a Black community — which is already disproportionately affected by environmental racism — and replacing it with a militarized police training ground for people that could one day kill them is indefensible.
Yet despite months of public outcry and community organizing, the Atlanta Police Foundation continues to move forward with this direct threat to Black lives. “Cop City” — an attempt to restore a prison farm — will train police in crowd control and urban warfare techniques, and go so far as to build a “shoot house” where they can practice shooting civilians. In short: “Cop City” will teach police how to be more violent — all in a Black Atlanta neighborhood’s backyard.
Moreover, Governor Kemp has declared a ‘state of emergency’ that threatens to intervene and criminalize us even as we are grieving. Our calls for justice and accountability have only been met with more state violence.
Free the land. Land is tied to our existence, dignity, and the survival of Black communities. Land provides Black communities with nourishment, housing, and healing. As it did for the Muscogee Creek people before they were violently displaced. Colonization caused the climate crisis and climate destruction. As a reparative measure, Black-owned land is a legacy taken in tandem with our stolen labor and hundreds of years of skilled, caring, and successful stewardship. Land determines the destinies of our communities — and our right to access and steward unspoiled, untainted, and restored land sets the conditions for all other access rights.
“Cop cities” — in Atlanta and elsewhere — have no business existing, especially not in our communities. We deserve community care and healthy environments (as outlined in our Black Climate Mandate), not to have our green spaces demolished and be terrorized by militarized police. For Tortuguita and the entire Southeast Atlanta community, we will continue to support your work in defending our forests and work collectively to stop “Cop cities” everywhere.
The Movement for Black Lives is a national network of more than 150 leaders and organizations creating a broad political home for Black people to learn, organize and take action. M4BL includes activists, organizers, academics, lawyers, educators, health workers, artists and more, all unified in a radical vision for Black liberation and working for equity, justice and healing.