Forest Defenders Reoccupy Weelaunee to Stop Cop City

After Christmas 2022, Ryan Millsap, the Hollywood grifter, destroyed the parking lot of Weelaunee People Park (WPP) (formerly  Intrenchment Creek Park), the bike and walking path, and cut down dozens of trees in violation of a stop-work order. Millsap is the guy who conned the DeKalb County Commissioners into swapping 40-plus acres in beautiful wooded Intrenchment Creek Park for a pile of red dirt. 

In December 2022, January, and February 2023, the police raided Intrenchment Creek Park, now called Weelaunee People Park (WPP), three times and arrested 19 people charged with domestic terrorism. On February 18, the police entered WCC for the third time in military and SWAT gear with assault weapons to remove the 50-plus forest defenders peacefully camping in the public park. Manuel Teran, called “Tortuguita,” an environmental activist, was shot 13 times by several Georgia State Parole officers who were not wearing body cameras. The police said Teran shot first. Teran’s family has demanded an independent investigation into what happened.


On Saturday, March 4, thousands answered that call and marched into Weelaunee People Park to take back the public park that the police violently ran them out of and killed Tortuguita. 

Sunday, March 5, about a thousand people camped in WPP to attend a family-friendly music festival. Children jumped up and down in a bouncy house, and dogs played in the grass.

Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Code Pink and the international human rights organization Global Exchange was in Atlanta promoting her new book  “War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict.” Benjamin wanted to visit the Atlanta forest that she read about in the New York Times and the forest defender’s efforts to stop cop city. 

“I admire the people here, especially after all of these oppressive police sweeps, the killing of Manuel Teran, and the charging of people with domestic terrorism, which is insane. These people are trying to save the forest and the planet’s future. They are trying to stop the militarization happening in all our communities. The young people in the forest are the heart and soul of this country. They are good people,”  Benjamin said on a forest tour. “It looks and feels like Standing Rock.”.

Meanwhile, across Intrenchment Creek on the Old Prison Farm land next to Key Road, about 100 people dressed in black and camouflage set fire to two construction buildings, a bulldozer, and other equipment used to destroy the forest. They threw fireworks at the police to keep them away. Then they disappeared as quickly as they appeared.

It is on the Old Prison Farm property that Atlanta City Council gave the Atlanta Police Foundation 85 acres to build Cop City.

Since it was next to impossible to identify the people in black, the police ran over to the WPP’s music festival to retaliate by randomly arresting people.

The police arrived unexpectedly at the music festival and gave everyone 10 minutes to leave. Hundreds ran in terror of the police, but others held their ground and stayed.  

Police detained 35 people at the festival and arrested 23 – reports from the ground suggest that Georgia residents were filtered out to continue the state’s “outside agitator’ narrative, according to a Stop Cop City tweet.

The people haphazardly arrested were charged with domestic terrorism. Most of those arrested, if not all, were not involved in the burning of equipment at the Cop City site far from the music festival.

Witnesses said police pointed rifles in the children’s bouncy house, tased concertgoers trying to leave, tacked people to the ground, and threatened others with lethal force. Other eyewitnesses said a police officer said, “I swear to God I will kill you” to civilians in WPP and other reports that tear gas was used on people. 

Unicorn Riot filmed the police raid. At one point, you could hear a police officer tell people that the forest was private property and they had to get out. That was a lie. It is a public park.

Marlon Kautz, an organizer with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, told Unicorn Riot that the police response was consistent throughout this movement. “When something happens that police don’t like, they respond with a blanket attack on anybody they see as associated with the movement, regardless of whether they are responsible for some criminal action.”

The forest defenders have not killed anyone, but the police killed Tortuguita and said he shot first and hit an officer. They have no proof of that, which is under independent investigation. On a released body cam video, you can hear a police officer saying, “they fucked up one of their own.” 


The next day Atlanta’s Faith Community held a press conference at City Hall. They passed out a letter from 200 faith leaders representing thousands of people of faith calling on Mayor Dickens and the Atlanta City Council to stop the destruction of the South River Forest and cancel the lease to the Atlanta Police Foundation. 

They also call for dropping all domestic terrorism charges against forest defenders and an independent investigation into the killing of Manuel Paez Teran, “Tortuguita.”

“Ignoring the cries of the residents, the City of Atlanta moves to destroy the nation’s largest urban forest and replace it with the largest militarized police training facility in North America. We are troubled by leadership that stops acting on the will of the people and aligns itself instead with corporate money as a dominant power structure,” Rev. Leo Seyij Allen said.

Mekko Chebon Kernell, a Muskogee Creek Chef and a clergyperson with the United Methodist Church, spoke. “Our people lived on this land for over 13,000 years before we were forced to walk the “Trail of Tears.”  The Muskogees respected Mother Earth, unlike the Europeans, who treat Mother Earth like an ATM.

Michael Johnson, Executive Director of the Beloved Community Ministries, said he witnessed a police officer tackle an indigenous man, put him in a headlock, and taser him. The man said he could not breathe. It was Johnson and others that helped de-escalate this situation. The man’s crime was running from the officer.

“The police want us to believe that crime will disappear if they have more weapons. The police are creating violence to justify their presence and increased militarization,” Johnson said at a press conference at City Hall. 

All the TV stations report how the police are being attacked and how dangerous these out-of-state terrorists are destroying property. 

Faith leaders are dispelling the false narrative that it is outside agitators who don’t want Cop City and that they are violent.  

In 17 hours of testimony to the Atlanta City Council, the people overwhelmingly said they did not want Cop City. For two years, people in Fulton and DeKalb Counties have been protesting, lobbying, marching, writing letters, canvassing neighborhoods, and attending meetings to say they don’t want Cop City, but political leaders will not listen.  Elected officials’ decision to give away the forest was undemocratic. 

Now the younger generations of Atlanta and the nation are taking action to save the forest, the lungs of Atlanta, and the planet from destruction by stopping the bulldozers used to destroy the forest. Young people know they will not have a future unless they stop the destruction of forests and the militarization of the police, terrorizing and killing people of color. Desperate times call for desperate actions.

“It is the police who are engaging in violence and terrorism against the people who are standing against this illegal land swap. It is the police who have put so many young people in jail this year and charged them with domestic terrorism without any proof and killed Tortuguita,” Rev. Kiana Jones said.

“As clergy and community members, Cop City is not what we want. The Atlanta  Police Department has a history of being trained by the Israelis. We see the injustice that happens in Palestine year after year. Repression is not singular; it spreads like cancer, and if we don’t stand up to repression here, how can we stand up to repression anywhere else? That is why Cop City is dangerous, and we must stand against it,” Rev. Jones told the Streets of Atlanta.

Activists claim that Cop City is not a facility to fight crime. It is a militarized army of the rich to repress movements that challenge police violence and repression of poor and working-class communities. Cop City will train police from other states to learn how to dominate and control populations like the Israelis treat Palestinians.

On Wednesday, March 8, Mvskoko Ceremonial leaders entered the Atlanta Regional Commission, where ARC Board Members and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens were present. Mayor Dickens flees the room when Mvskoke leaders try to deliver an eviction notice and call for an end to the Cop City project on Msvokoke land.

Not only is Mayor Dickens a “Sell Out’, but he is also a coward.


Hundreds of people marched with the Black-led Community Movement Builders (CMB) from the Martin Luther King Center to the Atlanta Police Foundation to prove to Mayor Dickens that Fulton residents and Black people don’t want Cop City. 

Kamau Franklin, the founder of CMB, said, “Mayor Dickens, is this enough black person for you? is this enough Atlanta residents for you? Black people don’t want Cop City; nobody wants Cop City.”

Mayor Dickens ignores students, black residents, residents, and neighborhood groups when they come out against Cop City. He wants the public to believe that it is only white out-of-state agitators and not local people in this movement to Stop Cop City.

Marchers chanted “Vive Tortuguita, Mayor Dickens Got to Go, Stop Cop City, Cop City Will Never Be Built” in Atlanta Thursday night.

When the march reached the Atlanta Police Foundation, it was boarded up, with dozens of police guarding the building with guns of war. They were there to protect and serve their masters – the corporate executives that fund Cop City.

Atlanta has a housing crisis, with hundreds of homeless and mentally ill people living outside. Many complained about $90 million going to build Cop City when people needed housing, healthcare, food, jobs, funds for education, hospitals, social services, and repair road potholes. But politicians have unlimited money for a resort playground to militarize the police for urban warfare and for more jails to hold America’s youth that opposes police violence.

Our elected officials in Atlanta are spiritually dead when they have money for guns, jails, and police but crumbs for human needs.

Destiny, an activist, explained that the continued militarization of the police is not just happening in Atlanta. It is happening in Chicago, the west coast, and the United States. 

Over 38 cities have planned public events to support the forest defenders in Atlanta and oppose the building of Cop City. This is not a local issue; it is supported by national and international environmental groups and people worldwide who oppose police violence and repression.

Written and photos by Gloria Tatum

3 thoughts on “Forest Defenders Reoccupy Weelaunee to Stop Cop City

  1. Thanks for continuing your coverage, Gloria! I assume you have seen the news about what the independent autopsy of Tortuguita showed – wounds through both hands that indicate he was ilding his hands up when he was shot!! And the press conference that Concerned Black Clergy, led by Rev. Mcdonald, had this morning, which was, to say the least, disappointing, but actually kissing Dickens ass and included Richard Rose Pres of NAACP, rep from the GA Labor Council, and Antonio Brown even spreading conspiracy theories re out-of-towner antifa people being the violent ones in the movement and how they particularly targeted damaging a Ga Power Transformer that sends power to Grady Hospital?!! I am surprised, ad well as disgusted…maybe I shouldn’t be.

    You’ll have a lot to write about in your next blog post…the press conference re the autopsy us happening Monday morning. I’d love to ride there together with you if you are going…let me know if you are open to that.


  2. Thank you for your editorial report this Sunday morning, March 12th. I much appreciated the inclusion of community leader comments connecting the Atlanta Police Training Center to undemocratic corporate interests aimed at suppressing descent and protecting property over the interests of the community and common good. This center is another harbinger of the “School of the Americas” style domestic enforcement of corporate rule.


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