Manuel Teran ("Tortugita")Age 26 (born 23 Apr 1996)
18 Jan 2023
Atlanta, Georgia (USA)
TDoR list ref: tgeu/tdor2023/18-Jan-2023/Tortugita
Tortugita was shot 57 times by police clearing a protest against the construction of the "Copy City" training facility in Atlanta’s South River Forest.
Amid the ongoing fight to defend Atlanta’s South River Forest from the construction of a law enforcement training village, a beloved queer community organizer, Tortuguita, was shot and killed by police last Wednesday.
In August 2021, Atlanta’s government announced the construction of an 85-acre police training facility in the South River Forest, also known as the Weelaunee Forest, located just outside of the city. Protestors have nicknamed the development “Cop City,” and have decried its potential to militarize the police — plans reportedly include several gun ranges, models of city blocks to be used in training demonstrations, and more — and its environmental impact, given its location within one of Atlanta’s largest remaining green spaces and a poor, predominantly Black area. Accordingly, a diverse coalition of protesters have been organizing against the Cop City proposal for a year, including by occupying the forest in protest camps.
Tortuguita, an Indigenous Venezuelan who was also queer and nonbinary, was a forest defender who was killed during a SWAT operation to clear a protest camp, per The Appeal. In a statement to multiple media outlets, an anonymous forest defender stated that gunfire was heard Wednesday morning around 9 A.M. Authorities have claimed that Tortuguita was told by police to exit their tent, and that they were the first to shoot, injuring a Georgia State Patrol Trooper. Police reportedly shot back, killing the 26-year-old activist. Police say that there is no body camera footage of the encounter available, causing activists to question their version of events.
Tortuguita was vocally committed to nonviolence: “We get a lot of support from people who live here, and that’s important because we win through nonviolence,” they told the magazine Bitter Southerner in a December profile. “We’re not going to beat them at violence. But we can beat them in public opinion, in the courts even.”
A GoFundMe for the activist’s funeral costs states that Tortuguita was “always the biggest light in any room they entered.” The Atlanta Press Collective wrote that Tortuguita “spent their time between Atlanta, defending the forest from destruction and coordinating mutual aid for the movement and Florida where they helped build housing in low income communities hit hardest by the hurricane.”
“They were a trained medic, a loving partner, a dear friend, a brave soul, and so much more,” the statement reads.
People around the country hosted vigils for Tortuguita after they were killed, from Oakland to Miami to Madison, Wisconsin. The Atlanta Press Collective also published anonymous tributes to the activist, with multiple people lauding their commitment to the QTBIPOC community. “They loved all life and people — especially their qtpoc community — deeply,” one mourner wrote.
THREAD: Demonstrations and vigils have been announced across the country in honor of— Defend the Atlanta Forest (@defendATLforest) January 20, 2023
Tortugita, activist murdered by police in Atlanta, GA.
Atlanta, Saturday 1/21 @ 5pm pic.twitter.com/MaZbsrKIOf
Two months after Manual was killed, an autopsy revealed that they had been sitting with their hands raised when they were killed by police.
A second autopsy of an environmental activist who was shot and killed by the Georgia State Patrol on Jan. 18 shows their hands were raised when they were killed, lawyers for their family say. The full autopsy report will be released at a press conference Monday.
The 26-year-old protester, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, was killed in an Atlanta-area forest while police cleared an encampment of activists who oppose the construction of Atlanta's "Cop City" — or Public Training Safety Facility. Terán went by Tortuguita.
"Both Manuel's left and right hands show exit wounds in both palms. The autopsy further reveals that Manuel was most probably in a seated position, cross-legged when killed," lawyers said in a press release.
It's now confirmed by the DeKalb Examiner's office that there was no gunshot residue on the hands of Manuel Paez Terán.— Atlanta Community Press Collective (@atlanta_press) April 19, 2023
Activists have long maintained that the State's claim Tort fired first was a lie, and this autopsy supports activist claims. https://t.co/Ke78Nzi2zU
In October 2023 the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said that would not pursue criminal charges against the officers who killed them.