Their banner says it all: TREES GIVE LIFE, POLICE TAKE IT.
Hundreds of forest defenders and their supporters held a vigil in Little Five Points on Wednesday night, January 18, to grieve and honor their comrade who the police killed today. The police called it self-defense, but we have all heard that story too many times before, and it turned out not to be true.
Forest defenders refuse to let this murder of one of their own stop them from protesting the building of the largest militarized police training center for urban warfare in the country in the South Atlanta forest, a/k/a Weelaunee Forest.
Why do they need something this large? Is this in preparation for a militarized fascist police state to control minority communities and destroy human rights movements? Those are a few of the questions forest defenders are asking.
Events leading up to a forest defender killed by police started in December when aggressive police tactics escalated against the unarmed, non-violent political movement to Stop Cop City, as they call the proposed police facility.
On December 13, forest defenders in tree houses were sprayed with tear gas and pepper balls and forcibly removed from the trees at gunpoint. They bulldozed down trees with tree houses, destroyed an encampment on public parkland, and a makeshift kitchen. Police removed residents walking the trails at gunpoint.
Six forest defenders were arrested in that raid and charged with domestic terrorism. The police called them terrorists, and the media reported that lie without evidence.
But other people call these young forest defenders the country’s social consciousness, trying to raise awareness of the dangers of climate change and save the trees which are Atlanta’s lungs.
But climate change is only one issue that intersects in the Weelaunee forest. Another issue is the militarization of the police and police violence against poor people and people of color.
Remember Anthony Hill, who was having a mental crisis and ran toward a police officer for help with no weapon on his naked body and was shot and killed. Rayshard Brooks was asleep in his car; police would not allow him to go home. Instead, they planned to arrest him, and he ran in fear and was shot and killed. I could name dozens of other unarmed men killed by police, and the police always say they fired in self-defense.
“Don’t let the cops take over the narrative that we are terrorists and that they shot one of our comrades in self-defense. After all the unarmed people cops have killed, people recognize that cops are not here to help us but are here to terrorize us, “one young woman said at the vigil.
No evidence has been put forth on anyone shooting at the police or that those arrested in December were domestic terrorists.
Micah Herskind claims that the blame for what happened today can be laid at the feet of politicians and the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Ex-mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made a secret, backroom deal with the corporate-funded Atlanta Police Foundation to give away 300 acres of the forest to the police. There have been controversies and protests over this secret deal for the past two years, and now someone is dead. There needed to be public input on this forest giveaway.
“Mayor Andre Dickens, the Atlanta City Council, the Atlanta Committee for Progress, and all the corporations behind this monstrosity who rely on policy to facilitate gentrification and the capital accumulation of wealth to create abundance for themselves while the rest of us suffer,” Herskind said.
Mayor Dickens and the Atlanta City Council could end this if they had the courage and political will. There were 17 hours of public testimony, and 70% of the people did not want the forest cut down for cop city, but Atlanta City Council ignored the people’s will.
The $90 million plus dollars to build cop city could better be used to help underserved communities with housing, healthy care, after-school programs for children, job training, and opportunities. The police don’t need more military equipment to oppress these communities.
Ryan Millsap and the police have destroyed Intrenchment Creek Park (ICP).
ICP is still a public park, and the South River Watershed Alliance has a lawsuit that the land will not be disturbed until the court decides who owns Intrenchment Creek Park. The original deed states that ICP will remain a public park in perpetuity. A stop work order was posted, but that did not stop Ryan Millsap, the grifter who talked DeKalb County into swapping a clear-cut pile of red dirt for beautiful forested land in ICP. Millsap, after Christmas, came into the park with heavy equipment that destroyed the entrance, parking area, gazebo, and concert bike/walking path and cut down many trees in violation of the lawsuit.
On January 18, the police came back into the forest to move everyone out of a public park and killed one person camping there.
“I’ve seen a lot, but I have never responded to an incident where the police killed a protester to prevent the continuation of a political movement. I want to say to the media that the police always create a narrative to support and justify their actions. They always say they were acting in self-defense and that they feared for their lives and had no choice but to shoot to kill. Later we find out the police were lying. Don’t buy whatever the police are saying to justify what they did in this case,” Marlon Kautz said with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund.
“The Atlanta Solidarity Fund intends to pursue a vigorous legal strategy and an investigation to find out what happened in this case,” Kautz promised.