Killed in Cop City

Lifestyle

The police entered the foggy forest not long after sunrise. The group of officers made their way through the thin, bare trees and found two people tucked into a hammock. With guns drawn, they ordered that the couple get out, and placed Sarah Wasilewski, her partner, and their friend who was camping nearby under arrest. And then the officers kept venturing in farther.  

It was Jan. 18, 2023, and there’d already been several police raids here in Atlanta’s forest. For the past year, a community of activists called Defend the Atlanta Forest had lived under the trees to stop the construction of a massive police training center they called Cop City. And hours before entering the woods that winter morning, officers had been told the protesters were dangerous domestic terrorists.

One of the activists in the forest was Manuel Teran, a slender, queer, 26-year-old from Venezuela who used they/them pronouns, had a big smile, and made friends easily. Teran had spent much of the past year living under the trees. 

After the three arrests, the officers got to Teran’s tent. At 9:01 a.m., a flurry of shots rang out. The gunfire lasted about 11 seconds. At 9:02 a.m., nearby officers heard on their radios: “Officer down.” A prosecutor’s report later found Teran had 57 bullet wounds all over their body, and said an officer was rushed to the hospital to remove a bullet from Teran’s gun from his spine.

Wasilewski was standing outside a transport vehicle when she heard the explosion of gunshots. “I heard a whole clip unload, and I screamed because it was so loud and so terrifying. I immediately screamed, ‘What the fuck!’ ”

“Oh, shit, wow,” said the officer holding her, and he put her in the van. It sounded “like a fucking massacre,” Wasilewski says.

The only eyewitnesses to the shooting that day were the officers. And it took nine months for the prosecutor to release a report concluding the police killing of Teran was “objectively reasonable” and that “no criminal charges will be brought against any officers.” And with that, the prosecutor’s case is officially closed. But Teran’s family continues to fight to have all the evidence released. “We have waited eight months for the truth. We are in pain. We want to hear the interviews. We want our experts to review the lab tests. We want our questions answered,” the family said in a statement. “This report does not answer our questions. How long must we wait?”

 In the past year, Teran, who went by the code name Tortuguita, has become an icon in the environmentalist movement. At protests, people often chant “¡Tortuguita vive! ¡La lucha sigue!” The fight continues. Teran was labeled the first environmentalist killed by police in U.S. history. And their death comes at a time of heightened tension between environmental activists and police in the U.S. 

As the climate crisis intensifies, demonstrators are increasingly fighting projects that threaten the environment. At Standing Rock in North Dakota in 2016, activists blocked pipeline construction and police responded with counterterrorism tactics, water cannons, and federal charges. At the Line 3 pipeline protests in 2021, demonstrators occupied construction sites, leading to mass arrests and at least 900 criminal charges. 

Now, in Georgia, more than 40 people — including many who protested alongside Teran — face domestic-terror charges. And in September, the state’s prosecutors indicted 61 people under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In a statement, the state’s attorney general called the protesters “militant anarchists.”

Vienna Forest, an activist whose name has been changed because she fears doxxing, says the state is attempting to make protesters look like an organization when they are a movement of individuals. She faces both domestic-terrorism and RICO charges. “They’re trying to grasp at straws and throw as much as they can to keep us tied up,” she tells me. “I hope the fight keeps going, the struggle continues, and we’re able to hold our heads high and face this together.”

The escalating tensions were felt in the forest that winter. Just a month before Teran was killed, they had escaped another police raid and left the woods. But they decided to come back. 

“They felt like this was something worth dying for,” their friend Brent Lyman tells me. “They thought that if they went back out there, they might be killed, and they were prepared for that.” 

Activists are protesting the destruction of Atlanta’s Weelaunee Forest for a police training facility.

Cheney Orr/AFP/Getty Images

I SIT WITH TERAN’S mother, Belkis, and younger brother, Pedro, on a picnic bench under a pavilion in Atlanta’s Brownwood Park. It’s a hot summer day in the South, and there are activists all around us catching up and chatting. It’s the start of the June “Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City” week of action. Seven days of marches and events to bring awareness to the cause. Pedro peels a clementine, passing pieces to me and his mom. 

Belkis and Pedro tell me about the time the family lived in Panama when Teran was in their twenties and organized beach cleanups to collect trash that drifted ashore. Teran was laser-focused on the environment. “No straws,” Pedro remembers his sibling saying. “You’re gonna kill turtles.”

As they tell me about Teran, each memory seems to point to a life destined for activism. Teran was born in 1996 in Maracaibo, the second-largest city in Venezuela, the middle of three kids. As a child, Teran was generous, often emulating their mother, who worked in churches and did social work. When Belkis talks about their childhood, she remembers them giving away their Christmas gifts to kids who didn’t have toys. 

Teran could also be impatient and irritable. “That was the bad part of Manuel,” Belkis says. Belkis remembers telling Teran not to go outside because it was raining, and they cried, “I want to go out! I want to go out!” She encouraged them to read to calm their nerves — and taught them to meditate. 

Teran’s parents split up when they were three years old, and Belkis later married a man who worked for an oil company. His work meant lots of moves for the family — from Aruba to London to Russia’s Sakhalin Island. They finally settled in Houston.

At age 14 or 15, Teran came out to Belkis — first as gay, and then later as bisexual. Later in life, they identified as pansexual. She accepted Teran’s identity — she says her interpretation of the Bible was to accept everyone as they are — but she feared that others would judge Teran. Belkis told Teran when they came out as bisexual, “Now that you’re bisexual, why don’t you choose the ladies instead of men?”

Teran laughed and said, “Mummy, it’s not like that — it’s a connection.”

“You’re short, you’re skinny, you are Latino, and now you are bisexual,” Belkis said. “Well, Mom,” Teran said back, “I’m complicated.”

In 2011, Daniel, Teran’s older brother who they idolized, joined the military. And the rest of the family was on the move again — first to Egypt, where they lived for three and a half years, then the Netherlands, then to Panama. 

After graduating from high school, Teran went to Florida State University, where they founded an environmentalist club. They talked to Daniel about the cruelty of factory farming and volunteered as a cook for Food Not Bombs, providing free vegan and vegetarian meals. 

It was around this time, in the fall of 2020, that, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) says, Teran legally bought the handgun it alleged they later used to shoot a state trooper. They bought it for “community defense,” activists told The Guardian. The transaction form I obtained through a public-records request says that Teran bought a 9 mm pistol in September 2020. 

In 2021, Teran graduated from FSU with honors. Daniel says their mom had to push Teran to finish school because they were distracted by their activist groups. Teran told their family they wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience, but decided to take a year off first.

It was during that year off when plans were solidifying to build a sprawling police training center on the outskirts of Atlanta. The City Council voted in 2021 to lease 85 acres of forest for the project — in spite of protests from environmental groups about the destruction of the woodlands required to build the facility and from groups who said the center would further militarize the police. 

In fall 2021, activists began camping in the forest near where the center was slated. The following spring, authorities got the site ready, including removing people the Atlanta Police Foundation called “illegal squatters.” That May, Teran joined Defend the Atlanta Forest, the loose group of activists pushing back against the plans for the training center. The movement sprung from the 2020 protests after the police murder of George Floyd — an effort to fight back against hundreds of years of racialized violence and ecological destruction, and to save Atlanta’s vital tree canopy. Word of the movement spread through social media accounts, and gained tens of thousands of followers. Belkis says Teran learned about it through friends — Food Not Bombs Tallahassee had connections with Food Not Bombs Atlanta. Someone invited Teran, and they fell in love with the forest and the mission to protect the climate.

“He sent me a picture with all his hair back and with his backpack, ready to go to the forest,” Belkis says. If she’d known what would happen, she would’ve gone into the woods and tried to pull Teran out. “But I didn’t know it was so dangerous.”

Teran’s family (brother Daniel, mother Belkis, father Joel, and brother Pedro, from left) holds their picture.

Alyssa Pointer/Reuters/Redux

I WALK INTO THE forest before dusk in June 2023. Yellow tape cuts across a bike path that leads into the woods and signs warn against trespassing, but I had to see where the forest defenders lived before police raids drove them out. I’m about a mile as the crow flies from the training-center construction site. Teran set up their tent here with dozens of other activists. 

As I walk along a bike path, city sounds fade away, replaced by chirping birds. On a post with a black sign, “RIP Tort” is scrawled in white letters. A dirt trail leads into an area of tall pines with a carpet of brown needles underneath that the forest defenders called the “living room.” At one of Teran’s former campsites lies a wooden pallet on which “Rise Again” is spray-painted in blue. Nearby, a large tree rests on the ground. I heard it had been home to a tree-sit — platforms out of reach from police — and was knocked down after a raid.

There’s a long and painful history to the Weelaunee Forest. It’s the traditional land of the Muscogee Creek people, who the U.S. government forcibly removed in the 1830s as part of the Trail of Tears, in which thousands died. This area of forest was later used as a plantation, then a prison farm. Now, a juvenile-detention facility operates nearby.

Daniel says his sibling didn’t have to live here in the forest — their mom would have paid their rent, and they had friends to crash with. “Manny was purposely homeless in the forest because that’s where they wanted to live,” he says. The summer Teran lived here, word spread of a queer mecca in the woods. The forest defenders hosted raves, foraged for mushrooms, and cooked communal meals. Teran loved it here. “It was a political fight,” Daniel says, “exactly the sort of action to make the world a better place that Manny was all about.”

Forest defenders took on code names as a thin shield from police surveillance. Teran first met Brent Lyman in 2022 at a medic training in the forest. Teran brought a book about Indigenous leaders to the training. “One of the Indigenous leaders that was featured was Little Turtle. And so that’s when they took that name Tortuguita,” Lyman remembers.

Teran often talked to others in the forest about revolutionary movements — including those of Palestinians and the Zapatistas, an Indigenous movement in Mexico — and said they believed in peaceful protest. Their pacifist convictions are tough to square with the conclusions in the prosecutor’s report. When I asked the family’s lawyer, Brian Spears, about the report, he said there hasn’t yet been an independent review of the evidence. “Frankly, I don’t see any reasons to accept their conclusions before we see the underlying material,” he tells me. “We’re a long ways from this being over.”

Teran told Bitter Southerner magazine in the summer of 2022, “The right kind of resistance is peaceful, because that’s where we win. We’re not going to beat them at violence. They’re very, very good at violence. We’re not. We win through nonviolence. That’s really the only way we can win. We don’t want more people to die. We don’t want Atlanta to turn into a war zone.”

WHEN NEWCOMERS ARRIVED in the forest, Teran welcomed them, helping set up their tents and explaining how to stay safe during raids. The threat of raids hung like a shadow over life in the forest. They often began when construction workers tried to enter the forest — and the activists, in turn, blocked construction equipment, prompting police to crack down. In the spring of 2022, police arrested eight people, alleging they threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at officers. Protesters said police tackled and tased them. The raids escalated over the summer as officers worked with arborists to destroy tree-sits. Protesters built barricades, threw things at construction workers, and set a truck on fire. Over time, police escalated their tactics, organizing multi-agency operations with the FBI and Homeland Security, and charging protesters with harsher penalties.

Another one of Teran’s roles was occupying the tree-sits during raids. Vienna Forest remembers one of the first times she heard Teran’s voice — from high up in one of those tree-sits. 

“Who goes there!” the voice called. 

After that, Forest and Teran spent more time together, trading massages, and becoming romantic partners.

There was simplicity to life in the forest. They didn’t have to worry about paying bills or working a job. They only had to worry about taking care of each other and keeping their stuff dry. But there was always the buzz of helicopters above, portending the next raid.

“We had police surrounding us at all times,” Forest says, “but it still felt the most free that I ever felt in my entire life.” 

Teran stayed active in causes other than the climate crisis that year they lived in the forest, and they’d often leave to volunteer. Like in early December 2022, when they heard neo-Nazis had made threats against a drag event in Maryville, Tennessee. Teran and their friends drove to Maryville to link up with a group organizing drag defense. About two dozen people wearing glitter and trans Pride flags showed up to defend the event, where they faced antagonizers wearing Confederate flags and Nazi symbols and carrying guns in holsters. 

The antagonizers backed down. And that night, as a punk band played, Teran, Lyman, and friends bobbed their heads to the music. With a smile, Teran told Lyman, “I’m so fucking happy right now.”

THE MORNING OF DEC. 13 — just a month before Teran was killed — several law-enforcement agencies descended upon the forest. According to police reports I obtained through a public-records request, officers wrote that they were “part of an operation dealing with violent extremists.”

As they attempted to remove barricades from the site entrance, police alleged, people threw rocks at them. A DeKalb County officer wrote in a report that a propane tank struck the windshield of a police car and exploded. The car was damaged, but the officer wasn’t hurt. Police arrested a man walking nearby. 

That morning, Vienna Forest woke up to a text saying the cops were in the woods.

Vienna holds a photo of her slain partner, Teran, in Atlanta on Jan. 26, 2023.

R.J. Rico/AP Images

She heard the thrum of a helicopter and immediately thought of her friend, who was in a car in a nearby parking lot with Forest’s Anatolian shepherd. She walked over to check on them, peeking out from the tree line, but didn’t see her friend. Forest ducked back into the trees, and was arrested by two plainclothes officers. 

According to Atlanta Police Department reports I obtained through a public-records request, officers entered the forest and encountered three demonstrators in three separate treehouses who refused to come down. One answered “No” when asked to surrender. Another repeatedly said, “Fuck the police.” The third danced to music inside their treehouse. To force their surrender, police shot pepper balls — in one case deliberately hitting a demonstrator. Police arrested all three people, according to the reports.

People close to Teran say they were also in a tree-sit during the raid — but they managed to escape from police.

Lyman says Teran told him that they’d recorded a video posted on the Defend the Atlanta Forest Instagram account. The video, filmed from inside a treehouse, shows police firing a less-lethal gun in the direction of the person filming. (Less-lethal weapons are designed to incapacitate rather than kill, but U.S. police have killed people with “less-lethal” pepper-ball guns.) “They thought they might be killed,” Lyman says of Teran. 

Teran told Lyman that they were determined to stay in the tree. He says, “They were going to have to be removed — they weren’t going to come out willingly.” Teran withstood relentless police pressure for hours, Lyman says. They escaped without being arrested by waiting until police left, but the incident left them shaken. Lyman says it was particularly traumatic to Teran because it brought back memories of a previous physical assault. Five people arrested that day were charged with domestic terrorism, including Forest. 

With Forest in jail, Teran and Lyman went to the pound to rescue her dog, which had been captured after the raid, then went for tacos. Teran told Lyman they felt like a fugitive on the run. “They were feeling like they might be being targeted, like some officer of the state could walk through the door,” he says.

Teran decided to hide out, away from the forest, so they stayed with a friend in Atlanta for about a week, keeping their location secret. People close to Teran say that raid prompted them to change their number, and switch their code name to “Three Geese in a Trench Coat,” later shortened to “Geese.” And they began concealing their face at demonstrations.

Daniel says he talked with Teran about the domestic-terrorism charges against the other forest defenders and urged his sibling to leave Atlanta and go to another country — perhaps Panama. But, Daniel tells me, Teran was confident they could escape from the police. And in the end, they returned to the forest. Daniel says, “Manny did what they wanted.”

Christmas had just passed when Lyman drove Teran back to the forest and dropped them off with a backpack full of clothes, books, weed, and energy bars. It was cold, so Lyman gave his sleeping bag to Teran. Returning to the forest didn’t seem like a good idea to Lyman, but he knew he couldn’t change his friend’s mind. 

The forest Teran returned to felt different. Post-raid, it was cold, lonely, and under-resourced. Empty and eerie. Swan, an activist who asked to use a code name, came back around the same time and saw their belongings strewn across the forest floor from the raid. Tents were slashed beyond repair. They got to work cleaning it up.

By early January, the GBI was planning another multi-agency raid, according to police reports I obtained through an open-records request. The GBI asked the Department of Public Safety SWAT team and other agencies to clear the forest of protesters, who it believed were becoming “increasingly violent toward government.”

Teran was becoming more and more fearful. In the days leading up to their death, they told Swan that they feared police would torture or kill them because they were not an American citizen.

DeKalb, Ga., and Atlanta SWAT members are pictured leaving the Gresham Park command post in Atlanta on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

John Spink/”Atlanta Journal-Constitution”/AP Images

SARAH WASILEWSKI FIRST met Teran on Jan. 17, the day before the shooting. She was walking through the forest searching for a new spot to hang her hammock and wandered into what looked like a camp that had been destroyed. 

Just beyond the ravaged area was BIPOC Camp, an area Teran and others established as a safe place for people of color. She remembers Teran coming out and saying in a friendly tone, “Hey, this isn’t a space for white people.” She apologized, and Teran, who introduced themselves with the code name Geese, helped her find a spot nearby. Wasilewski and others tell me Teran was the only person staying in BIPOC Camp at the time.

Teran told Wasilewski they felt BIPOC Camp was safe because police hadn’t raided it before. “I guess the area that had been raided stopped literally right at the camp,” Wasilewski says, “and for whatever reason, they didn’t go further.”

The next morning, Wasilewski remembers, a huge group of officers approached her while she was in her hammock. “It was very scary,” she says. They ordered Wasilewski and her partner out of the hammock with guns pointed. Frustrated, she said, “Can you please get your gun out of my face?” As they got dressed, the officers barked at them for taking too long. They arrested her, her partner, and their friend, and handed them to the GBI before continuing to Teran’s tent.

Anne, camping a 10-minute walk from BIPOC Camp, woke up early. Someone said they heard a loud noise from a nearby field, so at around 8:30, she walked over. She saw a huge group of police coming out of the fog, so she went back into the woods.

Activists messaged one another that police were there. Anne thought of who she needed to warn. Her mind turned to Teran, a late sleeper. She turned toward BIPOC Camp to go wake them up. “There’s not a single day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about this, that if I just had 10 minutes more,” she says.

As she got closer to BIPOC Camp, she heard loud voices. “They sounded like they were the cops because they’re large, male voices coming from that direction.” She said the voices were “definitely not calm.”

“It was commotion. It was yelling. It was calling out. So it definitely sounded aggressive and hostile and not safe to approach,” she says. “I knew it was too late. And then I made a decision to quickly turn and go toward another direction to get as far away from the cop voices as possible.”

A selfie of Manuel Teran.

Courtesy of the Teran family

As she moved away, she received a message from Teran. “Tort messaged ‘Help’ to a group chat,” Anne says. “I tried to message back, like, ‘What’s going on? What do you need?’ But there was no message back after that.” About five to 10 minutes passed between Teran’s text and the gunshots, Anne says.

Anne was a short walk from BIPOC Camp when she heard it. “There was a whole hail of gunfire that was really loud, all in one single sequence. Just a lot of shots blending together. Some were being fired simultaneously,” Anne says. “What I heard was not a shootout like the police want to describe it as. What I heard was an execution.”

She froze and didn’t move from that spot for the entire day. “There were cops everywhere,” she says. “I didn’t want to die.… When I heard the gunfire, my first reaction was to message my loved ones: ‘I love you. If I die today, I love you.’ ”

As far as Anne knows, no protesters saw the shooting: “Most people just heard.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO TERAN on Jan. 18 wasn’t directly captured on bodycam, according to the GBI, but there’s footage of the aftermath. The GBI has not yet released the case file, which likely contains additional forensic evidence and interviews the GBI did with officers immediately after the shooting. The GBI denied my records requests, citing a section of the law that allows it to withhold records until after an investigation or possible prosecution is done. A special prosecutor reviewed the case file and released a report in October, announcing that the GBI would deny any records requests for the case file due to a pending investigation and prosecution.

Once the case file is released, more information may come to light. But I reviewed the prosecutor’s report, and I also obtained police reports from the Department of Public Safety that outline events from the perspective of the officers who shot Teran. The officers are all members of the Georgia State Patrol: Bryland Myers, Jared Parrish, Jonathan Salcedo, Mark Lamb, Ronaldo Kegel, and Royce Zah. The officers either didn’t respond to requests for comment or directed me to the GBI.

 The prosecutor’s report and the police reports I obtained (dated weeks and in some cases months after the shooting) detail what the officers remember happening that day. In an email, Teran family lawyer Spears tells me, “By the time these officers were preparing their reports, all of them were aware of the GBI version of events.” He adds that the family hasn’t had the chance to review the interviews of officers immediately following the incident, or the scientific evidence in the case file. 

Weeks before the raid, Myers, the assistant tactical commander of the SWAT team, wrote in his police report that the GBI told him protesters had attacked civilians, thrown Molotov cocktails, and burned a vehicle. A few days before the raid, the GBI handed him a Tactical Operations Plan that said an investigation had found “approximately 30 domestic terrorists” in the woods who were armed, and that explosives and booby traps were found there. That led him to believe they were “not only extremely dangerous and violent in general, but unusually hostile toward government employees, especially law-enforcement officers.”

The morning of Jan. 18, the GBI briefed officers, telling them that Defend the Atlanta Forest had nationwide reach, their crimes amounted to domestic terrorism, there were booby traps designed to “seriously injure or kill them,” and protesters were armed with guns and explosives. The GBI warned that protesters in the trees “may throw pre-staged feces and urine on officers below” and that “it was known that some trespassers carried STDs.” One officer wrote that the GBI briefing made him think “this group was organized and very dangerous.”

After entering the forest that morning, a group of officers came across a woman and man in a hammock, and a third person in a tent nearby. They arrested all three, turned them over to the GBI and continued into the woods. They reached a set of tents. They didn’t know it, but this was BIPOC Camp. The officers wrote that they saw movement in one of the tents. The reports say the group formed an L shape, and gave verbal commands. Lamb says Teran zipped up the tent, prompting him to radio for an officer with a pepper-ball gun. They all say they told Teran they were under arrest. Several of the officers remember Teran saying something to the effect of “I want you to leave.”

Myers arrived with the pepper-ball gun and announced he would shoot chemical agents, and Teran asked what they were being arrested for. The officer wrote that Teran unzipped the tent to peek out, and looked “angry.” Another officer told him to shoot the pepper-ball gun. He said in the police report that it was the right call because “probable cause existed” and the pepper-ball gun was “the least amount of force we could use.” He wrote that entering the tent was too dangerous because “domestic-terror suspects were present on the property and known to be armed and extremely violent.”

He fired the pepper-ball gun through the tent opening. He wrote that the pepper-ball gun “has thousands of documented uses with no known deaths or serious injuries.” That’s not true — a less-lethal pepper-ball gun killed a woman in 2004 when a Boston police officer shot her in the eye. That case is cited in an ongoing lawsuit against one of the officers involved in Teran’s killing who allegedly shot a woman in the face with the same kind of weapon.

Most of the reports say Teran was warned that a less-lethal weapon would be shot if they didn’t leave the tent. All the reports say the first weapon fired was the pepper-ball gun. Then, the officers say, gunshots came from inside the tent.  

Officers say they moved out of the way, and in the scramble, Lamb tripped and fell. He wasn’t shot, but other officers thought he had been. Parrish was hit by a bullet below his armor plate and above his belt on his right side, and in the prosecutor’s report he says he saw a hole in the side of the tent where the bullet passed through. He says he dropped to a knee, drew his pistol, and fired back into the tent — shooting until he saw smoke coming from the front of the tent. Multiple officers believed Teran had thrown an improvised explosive device — and one said “it appeared to be a mixture of something inside a plastic bottle before it exploded.”

According to all of the police narratives, after Teran began shooting, five officers fired back into the tent. 

An official autopsy by the DeKalb County medical officer later found that Teran had 57 bullet wounds from entry and exit points. And the crime scene report said there were bullet holes in three sides of the tent.

Parrish was rushed out of the forest. Afterward, the officers found Teran inside the tent — dead. Parrish survived, and the bullet removed from where it was lodged adjacent to his spine was later tested and determined to have come from Teran’s Smith & Wesson 9 mm pistol, which was found inside their tent, according to the prosecutor’s report.

Two autopsies were completed after Teran’s death. The official one by the DeKalb County medical examiner found there were too many variables to draw conclusions about Teran’s body position. An autopsy released by the family found that at the time Teran was shot, they were “probably in a seated position, cross-legged.” As they were being shot, Teran likely raised their arms up in front of their body, but the report said it was impossible to know if Teran was holding a gun. The report found no gunshot wounds entering Teran’s back, meaning they faced the officers. 

‘Stop Cop City’ protesters march from Atlanta’s Gresham Park in honor of Teran this summer.

Collin Mayfield/SIPA USA/AP Images

FIVE MONTHS AFTER the shooting, at the Cop City site, bulldozers roll over red dirt and excavators claw at the soil. A cop car sits on the road shoulder, lights blinking, as workers install barbed wire along a fence surrounding the property. 

As RICO charges hang over the Atlanta forest defenders, activists plan a November peaceful action to block construction, and have submitted a petition to hold a referendum on Cop City. Meanwhile, Teran’s family is suing the city of Atlanta to force it to release records. Belkis believes Teran was murdered — by the officers involved and officials who sent police into the forest. “It was not one person,” she says. “It was a system that wanted to suppress the freedom of the people.” 

On June 28, about 70 people march along the bike path toward the woods where Teran had lived, a park that police had closed to the public. The group chants, “¡Tortuguita vive! ¡La lucha sigue!” In the sky, a helicopter follows the crowd. As they near the woods, the group spots police vehicles waiting in a parking lot. The organizers stop the march. Undeterred by police, Belkis seizes the chance to illustrate what she believes were the last moments of her child’s life. She sits in the grass, crosses her legs, and holds up her hands. The crowd mirrors her, sitting cross-legged, hands up. She shouts through a megaphone, “Go away! Go away!” The crowd answers, “Go away! Go away!” 

As the helicopter hovers above, the group turns and walks back along the bike path, away from the forest.

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