Melissa Harris-Perry: You're with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Thanks for being with us.
We begin by returning to Atlanta, Georgia where demonstrators took to the streets over the weekend in protest.
Although the majority of those who protested assembled without incident, a small group of demonstrators threw rocks and lit fireworks, smashed windows and damaged property. Seven people were arrested during the protests, and some were charged with aggravated assault against law enforcement, and with domestic terrorism.
Now, these demonstrations are all part of a story that we brought you last week. About a nearly two-year battle against building a $90 million dollar police training facility known as Cop City.
You'll remember that Cop City is a training facility for police, that the Atlanta City Council approved back in 2021, and it's slated to be built on 85 acres of forest land in unincorporated DeKalb County just South of Atlanta. In an effort to halt the development of Cop City, a group of activists known as Forest Defenders have occupied the area for months, and they've been subject to multiple police raids during that time.
On Wednesday, one of those raids turned violent. Police shot and killed 26-year-old Manuel Terán, who's known as Tortuguita by their friends and community. In the wake of this killing and of this weekend's protests we sat down again with two guests who joined us last week.
Sean: My name is Sean, and I'm a participant in the movement to defend the Atlanta Forest.
Kamau Franklin: My name is Kamau Franklin, Founder of Community Movement Builders, and organizer against Cop City.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Sean, I want to begin with you. Can you just tell me what you know about what happened, and how you're feeling?
Sean: It's been a very hard week for a lot of people, myself included. There's been escalation, continuing escalation on behalf of the police against Forest Defenders, and there's been numerous raids on the forest in the past with heavily armed police with the guns drawn throughout the woods. That gave people the fear that they would use these guns against forest defenders that had already used pepper balls and rubber bullets. From what I have been able to gather from Wednesday, there was no witnesses to the incident in which Tortuguita was shot and killed, other than the police.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Well, I want to ask you the same thing about what you know about what happened, and how you're feeling right now.
Kamau Franklin: I'll start with the latter question. I think not just me but many folks who I've talked to feel horrified at what took place, the killing of this young organizer activist, the fact that the city, the county, and the state, and now the federal government has pursued this policy of criminalizing protesters, overcharging protesters, and creating a narrative that suggests the protesters are dangerous. In response, actually to the fact that it is the police who have been a danger to the larger community, which is why we knew right away that we would want to protest Cop City.
The little information, as Sean mentioned, that we know from the incident is all directed by the narrative that the police have given to us, we should point out that although the idea that this task force included the Atlanta City Police, DeKalb County Police, SWAT team, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, State Troopers, and from some news reports, even the FBI, there is not one agency that had body cam footage of what took place. The City of Atlanta police are required to have body cam on when they're interacting with the public, but yet we have no body cam image whatsoever.
The only narrative we have is the police narrative, and the only thing we really do know is what the police have said. This is all we know, is we don't know at what angle Tortuguita was shot, how many times they were shot. None of this information has been made public, and that's why we are demanding an independent investigation other than what the police are saying.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Sean, did you know Manuel?
Sean: I knew Tortuguita in passing and by legend, almost, as someone who had very bravely broadcast themselves in a tree sit while they were being fired at with rubber bullets and pepper balls from below, and stayed in the tree and not come down despite this onslaught of police violence against them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Sean, were you in the forest when it was raided on that day, or have you been there when it's been raided on any of the days?
Sean: Yes. The Atlanta Forest, the Weelaunee Forest in question, it's hundreds of acres of woods with roads bounding it on all sides, and creek that runs through it. It's fairly wide creek. On a normal day, you can find a few dozen people on the ground throughout the forest in various tree sits or camps. Usually when there's a big raid happening of police, there's early indications of a helicopter flying over these kinds of things, and then people prepare as best they can by either making sure they're up in tree sits or evacuating the area.
When a raid is happening, there's hundreds of acres and there's police combed out fanning through all of it. A lot of times they're just destroying all material and infrastructure they can find, wrecking people's tents, slashing tarps, destroying water, destroying cooking equipment, destroying food, just having these very aggressive reactions to just basic encampments.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about the response of the city to this killing.
Kamau Franklin: The city, and I think at best you could say one police car was burning, not the city of Atlanta, but I think the response of the city has been their response since the very beginning of protest. What seems to be under reported is that even at the beginning of the protest against Cop City, when people were doing demonstrations and marches on city sidewalks, we would have, at the end of those demonstrations, police jumping in the middle of them and arresting people for just standing or talking after demonstrations and they've come in during demonstrations.
They've used pepper spray, they've violently thrown people to the ground, folks have been arrested. This is pre the charges of domestic terrorism, but still charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrests, threats after the arrest of loss of paperwork and people didn't cooperate. The tactics of the police have been violent towards the protesters since the very beginning, but unfortunately this has gone under-reported or not reported as violence and scare tactics used against protesters.
And so, as the Cop City idea passed and the Brave Force defenders, the people who decided to do acts of civil disobedience and direct action, by taking up space in a forest, the police, and again the various agencies, have only stepped up their tactics to the point where as was stated, they're using not only rubber bullets and pepper balls, but now live ammunition. They're using the tactics of overcharging, in fact arresting at all and putting out scary press releases to the media about terrorists, which again, as Sean stated, is only meant to criminalize the movement, to scare people off, and to make it so that they can build this monstrosity that no one in the city of Atlanta asked for without there being legitimate protest against it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We've got more on the protests in Atlanta about the construction of Cop City right after this.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, we're back with more on this weekend's protests in Atlanta, all connected to the issue of building Cop City. We're talking with two organizers, Kamau Franklin and Sean.
Kamau there's a fairly strong counter narrative that these protesters are actually not residents of Atlanta or of surrounding communities, that they are out of state agitators. How would you respond to that?
Kamau Franklin: Well, I think it's very interesting that the language of calling people outside troublemakers is continually used and as outsiders. These are the same officials who last week were honoring Dr. King who continually honor the civil rights movement who honor freedom writers, people who traveled all across the country to protest against acts of civil rights violations, illegal laws, laws that were immoral, and ordinances that were immoral, from the deep south up to the north. These types of interventions were happening in the '50s and '60, and now these people are celebrated, although these people are invoking the same language as southern segregationist to deride actions of civil disobedience and protest against what people find to be immoral laws against city, state, county, and sometimes federal governments. I think it's a complete misnomer for anyone to take that language seriously.
The movement against Cop City is diverse. It is people local to Atlanta and the surrounding areas. It is people who come outside to express their First Amendment rights to protest in Atlanta as they should do. We think that language is really just a way to, again, use language which is meant to criminalize or make people feel like they're outsiders, or to make people seem like they're outsiders, and is the very language taken from southern segregationist when they wanted to speed negative around civil rights actions in the '50s and '60s.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We also spoke again with at large city council member, Michael Julian Bond, who supports the construction of Cop City.
Michael Julian Bond: When you begin to commit acts of violence, you go back to the Civil Rights Movement of the '50s, '60s, early '70s, and those who were leading that movement, whether it's Dr. King, members of the student non-violent coordinating committee, Stokely Carmichael, even H. Rap Brown, they never threw bricks. They never set anything on fire. They never damaged property, and of course, those who inspired them were Dr. King, the nonviolent movement, going back to Mahatma Gandhi, they never threw bricks, they never committed act of violence. They changed the nation. Ultimately those teachings and practice changed the world.
I don't condone that at all or what they did. I believe that when they began to commit those acts, that they ceased from being legitimate activists and demonstrators, and they became criminals. They committed criminal acts, which takes away from the reason that they're protesting in the first place. It diminishes it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now we're going to continue to follow this developing story out of Atlanta. Remember, you can always go back and check out our earlier coverage of the protests of Cop City at thetakeaway.org.
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