David Peisner: Little Turtle’s War

The shooting death of a protestor at the hands of police feels like both an inevitable outcome of this long battle over Atlanta’s South River Forest and a completely preventable tragedy.

Bitter Southerner, January 20, 2023

I didn’t know Manuel Teran as Manuel Teran. To me, Manuel was Tortuguita. Like pretty much all the forest defenders I met while reporting on the protest movement that has emerged in opposition to the city’s plan to build a police training facility in a forest in south Atlanta, Teran went by a forest name in order to maintain anonymity. At one point, Teran — who preferred they/them pronouns but was not particularly concerned when an early draft of my story, “The Forest for the Trees,” failed to use them — wanted me to refer to them in the story as “[Redacted],” mostly, it seemed, because they thought it was funny. 

But “Tortuguita,” as Teran explained the first time we met, was not just a cute name chosen at random. Spanish for “Little Turtle,” it was a nod to the Colonial-era indigenous military commander of the same name who led Native American forces to one of their most decisive victories against the then-nascent U.S. Army in 1791. Teran was reluctant to publicize this backstory because, as they told me, “That does not make us look like peaceful protesters. We are very peaceful people, I promise.”

Teran was shot and killed on the morning of January 18, in what law enforcement officials described as a firefight during which a Georgia state trooper also sustained a gunshot wound to the abdomen. As of January 19, the trooper is in stable condition. According to Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Michael Register, Teran, who was 26,  opened fire “without warning” at law enforcement officers and was then shot in self-defense. 

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