This story originally appeared in Truthout on Jan. 25, 2023. It is shared here with permission.
Progressive lawmakers are calling for an independent investigation into the death of climate justice activist Manuel Terán, who also went by the name Tortuguita, who was killed by police last week as law enforcement officers were carrying out a violent raid of a protest camp in a wooded area in Atlanta, Georgia.
Activists say that the police raid of the camp was only law enforcement’s most recent attempt to clear the camp, where activists have been protesting a proposed $90 million police training facility that activists have nicknamed “Cop City.” The construction of “Cop City,” as proposed by the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Department,” would involve razing nearly 100 acres of forest to build “a domestic version of a military base in the heart of a working-class Black community,” as Atlanta forest defender Kamau Franklin wrote for Truthout.
Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Cori Bush (D-Missouri) called for an independent investigation into the police killing of Tortuguita this week, echoing activists’ calls.
“Last week, police killed Tortuguita, a climate justice protester in Atlanta who was defending a forest set to be destroyed for Cop City, a police training center,” Bush wrote on Twitter on Monday. “I am calling for an independent investigation into their death. There must be accountability.”
Tlaib repeated Bush’s call in a tweet on Wednesday, saying: “I echo Rep. Bush’s call for an independent investigation. We demand justice for Tortuguita. I stand with the forest protectors righteously fighting Cop City.”
Activists have also been calling for an investigation, one that doesn’t involve federal agencies or law enforcement agencies tied to the killing. Police have claimed that they only shot and killed a protester because the protester shot first — a narrative that has been dominating corporate media outlets. But activists say that this account of events seems unlikely, and at the very least is missing basic information, like how many times the victim was shot.
“To our knowledge so far, we find it less than likely that the police version of events is what really happened…. As the little intel that we have, residents said that they heard a blast of gunshots all at once, and not one blast and then a return of fire,” Franklin said in an interview last week with Democracy Now!.
“And that’s why we’re calling for an independent investigation, not one that’s done by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, not one that’s done by any federal authority, but a complete independent investigation, because that’s the only way we’re going to know what really happened,” Franklin continued. “But right now, based on what we do know, we cannot say anything except that this is probably a political assassination.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) says that it’s launched an independent investigation into the matter. But according to the agency’s own statement about the probe, the “joint task force” conducting the investigation includes the Atlanta Police Department itself; it’s common for police departments to investigate themselves in “independent” investigations after a police killing and find no wrongdoing.
Perhaps knowing that communities questioning the police narrative surrounding Tortuguita’s death communicate online, the GBI’s official Twitter has repeatedly rebuffed people speaking in defense of Tortuguita and the protesters. On Monday, the GBI was quick to tweet a response to climate activist Steven Donziger, who shared a photo that appeared to show that members of the Atlanta SWAT team who were allegedly present at the shooting were wearing body cameras. The GBI wrote, “this tweet is FALSE” — a notably conclusive claim to make in public about an ongoing investigation.