Believed to be the first environmental defender killed in the U.S., the shooting of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, advocates warn of a dangerous escalation in the criminalization and repression of those who seek to protect natural resources, according to The Guardian. The death of the 26-year-old, who was known as “Tortuguita” or “Little Turtle,” in a forest on the fringes of Atlanta was the sort of deadly act “people who have been paying attention to this issue assumed would happen soon, with no sense of joy”, says Marla Marcum of the Climate Disobedience Center, which supports climate protesters. Terán was shot and killed by police as officers from an assortment of forces swept through the small camp of a loose-knit activist group defending the urban forest on Jan. 18. Police say Terán shot and injured a Georgia state trooper with a handgun first. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said the shooting was not recorded on body cameras, prompting calls for an independent investigation.
State and local authorities have reacted aggressively to protesters trying to stop 85 acres of the forest being torn down to build a sprawling, state-of-the-art, $90m police training complex – dubbed “Cop City” by opponents. It will feature a mock city for “tactical” exercises. Nineteen forest defenders have been charged with felonies under Georgia’s domestic terrorism laws since December. Authorities have detailed the alleged acts of terror by nine of those facing charges, which include trespassing, constructing a campsite, and sitting in the trees of the woodland, a 300-acre wedge of land that once contained a prison farm but is now a large urban forests. Gov. Brian Kemp, who declared a state of emergency and mobilized 1,000 members of the National Guard over the protests, has blamed “out-of-state rioters” and a “network of militant activists who have committed similar acts of domestic terrorism across the country." Georgia’s response to the protests follows a pattern of environmental and land rights defenders being threatened, arrested, and charged with crimes for opposing oil and gas pipelines or the destruction of forests or waterways, advocates claim.