“Revenge Rioting” in Atlanta Over a Death During the Misguided “Cop City” Protests – Exposing the Illogic of the “Forest Defenders”

One example of the many calls for retalitory violence on social media following Teran’s death. Many have since been removed.
Another social media example of “Tortuguita” being used as a martyr figure with subtle suggestions for violence in revenge (“brick, firecracker, “bring your rage,” “fight like hell”)

Incident and Protest History Summary

The incident occurred at the site of the proposed public safety training facility (red marker)

The proposed development being protested will include a $90 million public safety training center. The facility will include mock city buildings that allow law enforcement personnel to practice breaches, house clearing, and other urban operations. Protesters oppose the destruction of the forest for any purpose, but they specifically oppose the construction of the training facility, which they have dubbed “Cop City.” They see it as an investment in a militarized police force that oppresses the people of the community. Some of the protesters also allege the deal is illegal, procedures to approve it were not properly followed, and there is corruption involved.

Current satellite image of the site, accessed January 21, 2023
Proposed development plan for the site including facilities and land reserved for a public park

According to the GBI, Teran, who also goes by the nicknames “Tort” and “Tortuguita,” was killed after a Georgia state trooper was shot in the abdomen and other officers returned fire. Teran died at the scene and the unidentified trooper was taken to the hospital to undergo surgery. The trooper’s condition is currently listed as stable.

Social media image of Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, AKA “Tortuguita
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm pistol recovered at the scene. Records indicate it was purchased by Teran in 2020.

The protests against the project gained steam in 2021 but the plans for a new training facility for Atlanta police and first responders were revealed by the Atlanta Police Foundation as far back as 2017. According to protesters, the surrounding community has largely been opposed to the plans but officials have been acting in a biased manner to keep proceeding despite the opposition. Legal challenges to the development of the area have been initiated concurrent with the protests but have been ineffective in stopping its progress.


“Forest Defenders” blocking access to the site & mug shots of five individuals arrested in December related to these protests at the site.

Breakdown of the protesters’ arguments

Considering the information communicated from the protesters themselves, they have three main categories of complaints that can be considered in detail.

  1. Opposition to the perceived negative environmental impact of the project, especially cutting down trees at the site.
  2. Opposition to the construction of the Public Safety Training Center due to a perceived increase in police militarization that will cause more police abuse, especially in minority communities.
  3. Opposition to the approval of the project and its legality because of perceived procedural violations, questionable decision-making authority, and disregard for voices in the community.

Let’s consider these arguments one by one.

1. Opposition to cutting down trees/environmental impact on site

The “Forest Defenders” first and foremost present themselves as protectors of the environment and the cultural heritage of the area. They refer to the area of concern as part of the Weelaunee Forest and reference Native American history in the area to capitalize off of people’s sympathy for natural beauty and reverence for past cultures. Most people rightly wish to preserve forests and give consideration to areas of historical importance to cultural groups. This would be all well and good if it at all applied to the site as it is today. In reality, the 380-acre City of Atlanta-owned site (the proposed training center will be built upon 85 acres of it) is not in old growth forest. It is in the since-overgrown former fields of a prison farm that existed in various capacities from 1918 to 1995. The natural growth of trees in the area had been cleared out long ago, as indicated by the photograph below of the area from 1968.

The state of the site is far from the image presented to the public by the “Forest Defenders” of a pristine, isolated wilderness of sacred importance to indigenous cultures. The site is a wooded area of new growth trees and scrub brush surrounded by residential neighborhoods, commercial centers, and industrial activity. The vacant, dilapidated concrete structures existing throughout are covered in graffiti and vagrant trash. Large piles of junk are dumped throughout the area, some being identified as possible sources of contamination that must be disposed of properly. The alternative is a cleaner, managed greenspace. The Public Safety Training Center will exist in a campus-like setting with wooded trails throughout. A wooded park, much larger than the training center campus, will also be established from existing woodlands, protected, and better utilized than the area is now. Previous city planning for the South River Forest region, as proposed in the 2017 City Design Plan, can still largely occur as well, despite the worries of protesters. The South River Forest area surrounding the development site is much larger and includes countless other developments already existing within the proposed borders of the identified focus area of that effort.

The proposed boundaries of the South River Forest project. The yellow dot is the site of the proposed police training center.

In short, an environmental argument in opposition to this development is no stronger than it would be applied to any other development in the greater-Atlanta area. General opposition to modernity and community improvement to protect trees in all circumstances is unreasonable and not helpful to finding sustainable compromises and solutions to meet the needs of large metropolitan areas. Given that the decision to proceed has already been made (more on this below) the window of opportunity to present alternative uses for the site has passed. Overall, with the clean up that will take place to prepare for the new development, environmental quality at the site will actually improve, as will services and access to the community.

Below are some more images of the site to get an idea of the mess that must be addressed in addition to consideration of the forest:

2. Opposition to the police training center

General opposition to police is a basis for opposing the training center, as indicated by this vandalism in Atlanta during the rioting. Whether or not the training center makes logical sense or will benefit the community is of little concern to many of these protesters.
Screenshot from conceptual video of the proposed police training facility featuring a mock town for training purposes.

3. Opposition to the decision-making procedure/legitimacy of the project

This point may not be the most marketable for the protesters in terms of firing up support from their base, but it is essential for their argument because in order to justify their continued resistance and violent actions, they must delegitimize the process that lead to the decision. Democratic decision-making, afterall, is still a supposed value of the Left and this type of decision does legitimately fall within the purview of the city council and mayor for approval. Unlike legal decisions that directly violate the rights of individuals such as racial segregation, medical coerion, etc, this issue, after all, is not inherently one that is arguably of this nature in itself. If things are functioning properly, even if one disagrees with the final decision, one ought to respect it and not attempt to disrupt proceedings afterwards if one values the democratic process. Did things function properly during the proposal and approval process? Not according to the protesters as indicated in the attached articles above. Upon reading their complaints and reviewing the process that occurred leading to ultimate approval, it is apparent the protesters are again failing to consider the whole picture and are obscuring the truth for selfish gain.

Language from the often referenced City Design Plan regarding the subject area of protest in the South River Park area reflects its general nature and preliminary status. Nothing in the plan is final and in fact requires expressed approval from the council and mayor.
Example of opposition to the development based on alleged conflict with the past city commitments. The included quotes summarize the extent of such open-ended past commitments.

Reflecting on these protests

It is often said, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In this case, with the authorities labelling these protesters “terrorists,” they may see themselves as the “freedom fighters.” There is usually some truth to the statement above because in many conflicts the opposing sides are usually not in a “one side is completely right, the other is completely wrong” dichotomy and people’s values and needs vary considerably. The spirit of protest and civil disobedience is also extremely valuable and praiseworthy in itself; even regarding efforts with which one disagrees, admiration is usually warranted in some way for the passion of the participants. The operative word in those sentences being “usually.” The extreme fringe of these “Forest Defenders” are not only deploying disgustingly unjustified tactics to achieve their preferred ends, but also their specified ends are ignorant and based on illogical reasoning. If they truly wish to protect the environment and promote justice in the community, their efforts would be much better spent elsewhere. They are rampaging in the name of justice but really they are making a mockery of it. The burning police cars and smashed storefront windows in Atlanta are the latest testament to the rotten fruit their stunted seeds bear. How many more “Torts” will die for this type of nonsense? Mainstream media accounts of these protests have so far been too lenient on the perpetrators of these crimes and of this cause, for they have no redeeming value whatsoever. Good people everywhere should seek to see through their misguided propaganda and reject them.

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