The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Atlanta Police Shooting Highlights Continued Need for Environmental Activism
By Rev. Mary Katherine Morn on February 3, 2023
Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who used the name Tortuguita, was shot and killed by police in Atlanta during a law enforcement action they called a “clearing operation.” While police contend the shooting was in defense, and that Tortuguita shot an officer during a struggle, others present dispute these claims. All of this is consistent with tactics being used around the United States—and around the world—as acts of protest are being criminalized and environmental defenders are murdered for their activism. And in many cases, these laws are passed to protect corporate interests.
Tortuguita and other activists were camped in protest and protection for the forest, which is being cleared to build a massive, $90 million, “cop city” facility.
UUSC has a steadfast commitment to supporting the right to resist and efforts to defend our natural resources from extractive projects that disrupt communities, negatively impact public health, diminish trust between law enforcement and the community, and displace individuals and families. We have witnessed in Honduras, for instance, water defenders murdered and unjustly charged and held by the government doing the bidding of corporate interests.
In countries throughout Latin America—and around the world—environmental defenders are murdered and jailed, often in line with laws created to protect corporate extractive industries from accountability for their threats to public and planetary health. Now we are witnessing the nationwide trend within the United States of laws passed to criminalize protest. To this date, 42 States have passed bills criminalizing protests near oil/gas or other so-called “critical infrastructure” projects. Ironically, Georgia’s 2017 SB1 failed in the House and did not become law. Struggles like this are not new. From the Fish Wars in the 1970s and 80s to Standing Rock and the Line 3 pipeline protests, our nation has an unfortunate history of invading and defiling land for the purpose of corporate projects.
And still, Tortuguita is dead. And many of the others who are protesting the further militarization of a municipal police force have been charged.
Those who knew Tortuguita have said they devoted themselves to building communities of care. Protecting the forest and the community called them to sleep on platforms among the trees and to call for the preservation of the South River Forest—one of the largest urban forests in the region—and to resist the expansion of police powers and militarization.
The Atlanta “cop city” project connects directly to the deep and nuanced history of nonviolent civil disobedience in the south and across the nation. Acts of civil disobedience are radical moments that call us into reimagining our relationships with each other and with the earth. Imagine what would be possible if we used that $90 million to advance community safety and health.
In March, UUSC and the UUA will host the Intergenerational Spring Seminar on the theme of “Demilitarization and Abolition” as we learn to resist policing and empire. Please join us to learn how together we can build community safety and health, including resisting criminalization of protest.
Image Credit: Deceleration News