Michael Gould-Wartofsky: Deadly Violence Against Protesters Is the New Normal

Our over-militarized police force makes de-escalation unthinkable and violence inevitable—and, in the case of the “Cop City” shooting, lethal.

The Nation, February 3, 2023

On the morning of January 18, agents from nine agencies, including the FBI and its local counterpart, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, descended on a section of Atlanta’s South River Forest occupied by activists. For the past two years, hundreds had lived in the section of the Weelaunee forest, in tents and treehouses, in order to block its planned conversion into a police training facility—a “Cop City” complete with a mock village, firing ranges, and a Black Hawk landing pad. That morning, the agents were under orders to “eliminate the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center of criminal activity.”

It is still unclear why the task force opened fire. But after 12 shots rang out, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, known as Tortuguita (or “Little Turtle”), a young, nonbinary forest defender of Afro-Venezuelan and Indigenous ancestry, had been hit and killed.

Terán’s death marks the fifth protest fatality at the hands of US law enforcement since the start of the George Floyd rebellion in May 2020: David “Ya Ya” McAtee was killed by a National Guardsman’s bullet in Louisville, Ky., on June 1, 2020; Sean Monterrosa was gunned down by undercover police in Vallejo, Calif., the very next day. Michael Reinoehl and Winston “Boogie” Smith Jr., both antifascists, were hunted down and “neutralized” by US Marshals within months of each other. And it’s not just protesters: In the past month, the police have killed Terán, Tyre Nichols, and Keenan Anderson.

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