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Police Shot Atlanta Cop City Protester 57 Times, Autopsy Finds

FILE - Family members of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán embrace during a news conference, Monday, March 13, 2023, in Decatur, Ga. Georgia authorities allege that in January 2023, state troopers fatally shot an environmental protester who had fired at authorities after a trooper shot pepper balls into the protester’s tent, according to incident reports obtained Friday, March 23, by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Paez Terán was killed in DeKalb County's South River Forest as officers tried to clear activists who were camping near the site of a planned police and training center that protesters call “Cop City.” (AP Photo/Alex Slitz, File)

Family members of Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán embrace during a news conference in Decatur, Ga., on March 13, 2023.

Photo: Alex Slitz/AP

When 26-year-old Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán was shot dead by police during a brutal, multi-agency raid on the Defend Atlanta Forest, Stop Cop City encampment in January, the activist’s friends felt certain of two things: Tortuguita was murdered, and whatever narrative the police offered would be a lie.

Like clockwork, police officials claimed that Tortuguita shot first and hit a state trooper. In body camera footage that was later released — after police said none would be — one officer said that the cop had been shot by his fellow police. (Authorities dismissed the footage as speculation and said evidence did not support the remarks.) A previous, independent autopsy ordered by Tortuguita’s family found that the activist’s hands were raised when they were shot.

Then, on Wednesday night, DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office released its official autopsy report, which found no trace of gunpowder residue on Tortuguita’s hands. The young activist’s body was riddled with at least 57 gunshot wounds, including in their head, torso, hands, and legs. The medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide.

The abundance of evidence, including the government autopsy, doesn’t look like a group of police taking self-defensive action against a protester.

What it looks like is that the forest defender was executed by firing squad.

With so many gunshot wounds, the sheer brutality of Tortuguita’s killing is hard to fathom. Even if the autopsy report showed the activist had fired a gun, as police claimed, this would not have justified gunning them down in a storm of bullets.

Yet there is nothing unusual in police taking on the role of extrajudicial killers; attempts to baselessly blame the victim for their own demise are par for the course. It is this understanding that undergirds the struggle to stop the $90 million police training center from being built atop a huge swath of the Atlanta forest.

The militarized raid that led to Tortuguita’s death is precisely the sort of “counterinsurgency” police tactic that the facility would be dedicated to perpetuating. Tortuguita’s killing morbidly highlights the stakes of stopping Cop City. It is not an aberration when the work of policing is to administer violence in the service of capital.

In the long three months that it took for the autopsy report to be released — a delay that movement participants believed indicated efforts by the authorities to suppress information — cops have continued to attack the protest camp with violent raids and indiscriminate arrests. Forty-two people have been charged with domestic terrorism for their participation in the movement, with arrest warrants citing the flimsiest grounds, including protesters having mud on their shoes and the number for a legal support group scrawled on their arms.

There is no bodycam footage directly capturing the moments when cops pumped 57-plus bullets into the young activist’s body. No police have been charged in Tortuguita’s killing, though investigations are reportedly ongoing. Typical “bad apple” narratives — seeking to blame a few “bad” cops for the few police killings deemed unwarranted by our criminal legal system — are difficult to uphold when the killing appears to involve an entire firing squad involved in a coordinated raid operation.

Even if every shooter were convicted of murder charges, this would not constitute justice. Justice can only be achieved if the Atlanta Cop City and the violence it represents are stopped. Regardless of the lies law enforcement officials may spin next, Tortuguita’s execution was not policing gone wrong. It was simply policing — an institution beyond reform.

The post Police Shot Atlanta Cop City Protester 57 Times, Autopsy Finds appeared first on The Intercept.