DOJ Must Investigate Apparent Cover-up of Police Killing of US Climate Activist In Georgia
Police promised to release footage of the brutal killing of Manuel Terán. Instead, they continue to obfuscate key facts
I was in Atlanta recently to visit the site in the Weelaunee forest where on January 18 Georgia police shot "Cop City" protestor Manuel Terán so many times their body ended up with 57 gunshot wounds. It is increasingly clear that the official "investigation" by Georgia police of this tragic event — the first-ever US police killing of a climate activist — is designed to cover-up a wide body of evidence that six officers executed Terán and did not kill him in an exchange of gunfire, as the police maintain. These six officers are still on duty and have not even been put on administrative leave pending the completion of a deeply flawed investigation.
What is happening in Georgia is incredibly important: Terán was a vital part of a historic protest movement to stop construction of the “Cop City” urban warfare-style police training academy in a city where police have a long history of repression against minority communities. The protestors bring together the climate issue and police racism issues in ways almost never before seen in this country. More broadly, roughly 1,600 environmental activists have been murdered around the world in the last ten years, mostly in Latin America and Africa. Terán is the first such killing in the United States.
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Here are my latest takeaways from what can be gleaned from public information:
First, the initial police narrative that Terán shot at them first has all but collapsed. Two autopsy reports released recently found Terán did not have gunpowder residue on their hands. If Terán shot first, gunpowder residue would have been found. One of the autopsy reports (commissioned by Terán's family) indicated Terán was sitting on the ground cross-legged with hands raised at the time officers fired. Further, a separate group of police in the forest at the time of the killing are heard on body cam video released by the Atlanta Police Department saying that the wounded officer was hit by friendly fire. And police never produced a photo of Terán with a weapon on or near his body. Instead, after being accused of carrying out an assassination, two days after the killing they released a photo of a pistol on the ground they claimed Terán used against them. This weapon has never been connected to Terán, who was an avowed pacifist.
Second, the apparent police cover-up seems to be deepening. Remember that the official "investigation" of the incident is not independent — it is being carried out by the very agency (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) that planned the invasion of the forest that resulted in Terán's death. This is a flagrant conflict of interest. Not surprisingly, the GBI consistently has tried to block the release of key information (including extensive video footage) to the public. To maintain its official narrative, this agency conducted its own test that claimed to find traces of gunpowder on Terán's hands. The GBI just days ago released this report which is designed to make the earlier evidence seem inconclusive — a standard prosecutorial recipe for not filing charges in the case.
Third, the GBI and state officials recently assigned another supposed independent "prosecutor" to determine whether charges should be filed against the six officers who killed Terán. In my opinion, this is another key step in the "art" of the cover-up: rather than release the results of its "investigation" as promised — including all the body cam footage available — the GBI turned over the case to a law-and-order prosecutor with a history of close ties to law enforcement. The secrecy and lack of transparency continues. Expect this prosecutor to slow-roll his work before announcing months from now that there is “insufficient evidence” to proceed.
The only credible path at this point is for the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation to determine whether the first-ever US police killing of a climate activist was a murder followed by an official cover-up. On top of that, the DOJ should determine whether local prosecutorial and police authorities are abusing their power by using a “domestic terrorism” law to lock up protestors without trial and to try to silence the movement to stop construction of the Cop City complex.
One thing is already certain: Georgia law enforcement authorities have demonstrated they are incapable of policing themselves or investigating themselves. There must be an independent investigation.
It’s obvious that the DOJ doesn’t care, or they would have protected you against Chevron, New York, and the supreme court. They are bought and paid for like everybody else. We could potentially get our country back if we had a national strike, and I’m all for it. They murdered that guy, simple as that.
Mr. Donziger, you continue to advocate for justice at great personal cost to you and your family. We thank you.
For what it's worth, I am fighting back in the courts myself, inspired by people like you and Manuel Teran. The veil of democracy is gone but we must continue to fight back against the tyranny of the corporate state. Dark days are here as we watch the empires crumble but there is hope through removing ourselves from the global machinery of consumption.
How? Build local community where you can, buy from small businesses in your town, grow local foods and get involved in local politics. Stop listening to the mainstream media that wants you to hate or fear your neighbor.
There is no time left to stand idly by. ✊