Georgia Cops Kill Protester; Label Forest Defenders “Domestic Terrorists”

February 10th, 2023 - by Richard Luscombe / Guardian UK

Forest defender Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, shot 13 times.

Georgia Officials Condemned for Labeling ‘Cop City’ Protests Domestic Terrorism

Richard Luscombe / Guardian UK

(February 7, 2023) — Lawyers for the family of a climate activist who was shot dead by police in Georgia last month have condemned officials’ attempts to brand his fellow protesters of Atlanta’s planned “Cop City” training facility as domestic terrorists.

Attorneys representing relatives of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán were speaking at a news conference Monday as a large number of officers, including heavily armed tactical teams, descended again on the site in Atlanta’s South River forest where the building of the $90 million so-called Cop City is planned.

Paez was shot at least 13 times and killed there on 18 January while a minimum of seven other protesters were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and domestic terrorism.

At a press conference on Monday at the local county courthouse, Jeff Filipovits, attorney for the Paez family, said the Georgia bureau of investigation (GBI) agents looking into the shooting were not answering questions yet still sending a warning.

“The terrorism charges are meant to send a message, and that message is clear: ‘If you stand in our way, we will take you out of our way,’” he said.

“We will not tolerate this. There are plenty of other criminal laws that can be used if anyone has broken a law. There are plenty of crimes that can be charged against any individual who engages in acts of violence. We cannot ignore this worsening environment that started here in Atlanta, and that one day will be used against other groups.”

In addition to the charges against those arrested on the day Paez was killed, several senior Atlanta police officials have attempted to portray the protests against the training facility as terrorism, alarming civil rights analysts.

In comments to community stakeholders in December, Atlanta’s assistant police chief Carven Tyus appeared to suggest the charging of activists at a protest that month was based on geography.

“None of those people live here, they do not have a vested interest in this property, and that is why we consider that domestic terrorism,” he said, according to

The police chief, Darin Schierbaum, echoed the view at a press conference last month after a protest in downtown Atlanta in which several windows were broken and a police car was set on fire.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an attorney to tell you that breaking windows and setting fires is not protest,” he said. “It’s terrorism.”

The GBI has so far not produced any video or audio evidence to back its claim that Paez first drew a handgun and fired at a state trooper — who was wounded — before Paez was shot by officers from multiple agencies.

Dozens of officers from the Atlanta police department, the Dekalb county police, the Georgia state patrol, the GBI and the FBI swept through the protest camp in what was described as a “clearing operation” on 18 January. Yet the shooting was not captured on any body camera worn by officers, prompting calls for an outside agency to review the case.

In a press release, the GBI said Paez legally bought a handgun in September 2020 “that was used in the shooting of a [state] trooper”.

Filipovits on Monday suggested the claim was selective. “It is a single fact without context that tells us nothing of the narrative of what happened, and how things unfolded on that day,” he said.

“It’s a justification that they want people to draw conclusions from, but that doesn’t tell us what happened.”

Another attorney representing the Paez family, Brian Spears, said the GBI had refused to meet with him or his clients and had refused to provide answers to any of their questions.

“Our goal is to get answers for Manuel’s mother and father and family,” Spears said. “We’re asking again for that meeting with the GBI, and we want the release of all audio and video recordings, including any drone footage of the shooting in the area in which he died.”

Paez’s mother, Belkis Terán, told reporters her son was a pacifist whose life was dedicated to preserving the environment.

“We are horrified by all that has happened,” she said. “Killing a person who was sleeping in the forest doesn’t make sense to me.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Monday that teams of law enforcement had swooped on the Cop City site during the morning, accompanied by construction crews with heavy machinery. No one was arrested, the GBI said in a statement.

Activists from a group known as the Atlanta Forest Defenders have occupied the site on mostly unincorporated land for months.

The Atlanta Police Foundation, which is helping to fund the construction, said the project will provide “the necessary facilities required to effectively train 21st-century law enforcement agencies”, including a practice course for high-speed vehicle chases, a helicopter landing pad, a mock village and a shooting range.

ACTION ALERT: Sign the Petition: 
No Massive Police Training Complex.
Stop Cop City!

The Atlanta Police Foundation has plans–backed by $60 million in corporate funding and $30 million in taxpayer money–to build an enormous police training facility over the city’s Weelaunee Forest.

Activists and forest defenders are calling the plan “Cop City,” as it will include a mock village (complete with a nightclub), a Black Hawk helipad, an emergency vehicle driving course, dozens of firing ranges, and an area for explosives training.

The neighborhoods that surround the forest are largely made up of lower-income Black residents. Cop City will decimate green space, which is already so rare in BIPOC communities, and replace it with a playground for the police to practice warfare tactics.

Communities of color live with police-induced trauma every day. Now this Atlanta community will feel and hear the presence of a training facility where cops learn new ways to enact violence against Black and Brown folks, right in their own backyard.

In addition to the terror of an ever-present police force, Cop City is an environmental racism nightmare. The Weelaunee Forest provides ecological relief for the people of Atlanta. It offsets stormwater runoff, which might otherwise push unwanted sediment into the drinking water. The mere presence of trees helps to keep the city cool during the long, hot, humid summers, and improves air quality by reducing carbon dioxide released into the air.

Cop City has been gaining nationwide attention, and for good reason. The city of Atlanta, its police force, and its corporate sponsors are actively cooperating to increase police power, at a time when police departments are under scrutiny for abusing that power.

Cop City will do irreparable harm to the city of Atlanta, and inspire more play villages for cops across the country. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens must step in and stop this project now.


Our Message to Mayor Dickens :

No matter how you look at it, Cop City is bad for Atlanta. You must halt all plans to build Cop City, which will cause environmental, mental, and physical harm to the Black and Brown communities of Atlanta. Scrape plans for Cop City NOW and reinvest those funds back into communities.