The media effort to turn the Atlanta “forest defenders” into heroes (and victims of the police) still hasn’t let up. Last week I wrote about some of the awful coverage of this story by progressive outlets Vice, the Daily Show and, worst of all, Truthout. This week even more outlets are bending themselves into knots trying to turn the protesters into something worth celebrating.
The worst of these is a new story from Teen Vogue which repeats all of the same nonsense which was being pushed by the protesters last week and leaves out all of the inconvenient details they’ve decided not to mention at all.
Full details of the shooting have yet to emerge. The official police narrative — which, as a rule, should be treated with skepticism — has been murky from the start. First, police said there may have been gunfire by an unseen shooter, which resulted in the nonfatal shooting of an officer; shortly after, police claimed that they were in conversation with a forest defender who then fired at them.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigations claims there is no body camera footage of the shooting, as Georgia State Patrol officers are not equipped with body cams, and has refused to release the names of any officers involved. Other agencies that were present with body cams, including the Atlanta Police, are refusing to release whatever footage they have. Meanwhile, reports from the ground have suggested the possibility of accidental friendly fire.
As we wait for the full story to become clear, the fact remains: No one would have been killed had Atlanta’s leadership not rammed through the unpopular project known as Cop City.
This claim that the police narrative changed is something I dealt with last week. Police never said there “may have been gunfire…” The gunfire was never in doubt because a trooper was shot. On the day of the shooting, GBI Director Michael Register said, “An individual, without warning, shot a Georgia State Patrol trooper. Other law enforcement personnel returned fire in self-defense and evacuated the trooper to a safe area.” About five minutes later, a reporter asked Register to describe the situation in more detail and he said, “An individual confronted law enforcement and I don’t think that he was seen until he fired, I’m not sure.” Notice that last bit about not being sure.
The next day the GBI released a statement which said “as law enforcement was moving through the property, officers located a man inside a tent in the woods. Officers gave verbal commands to the man who did not comply and shot a Georgia State Patrol Trooper.” So it appears Register was wrong about the thing he admitted he wasn’t sure about. Officers did see the shooter and ordered him to come out of his tent. Instead of complying, he fired at them. Does that constitute a “conversation”? Not really. And the later description still fits with the initial claim that “without warning” a protester shot a trooper.
As for the claim that no one would have been killed if the police training center hadn’t been approved, you could say the same about the existence of this illegal protest. If the protesters weren’t occupying a space they don’t own, a trooper wouldn’t have been shot and the shooter wouldn’t be dead. Or you could say that about Tortugita’s decision to buy a gun and bring it to the illegal occupation. Or just about his decision to shoot an officer when told to leave. If he hadn’t done that, he’d still be alive. There are lots of places where this could have gone differently.
Speaking of Tortugita’s gun, notice that Teen Vogue never mentions his legal purchase of the gun or the fact that the ballistics proved the bullet that shot the trooper came from his gun. Instead they just repeat the discredited nonsense about “accidental friendly fire.” This isn’t reporting, this is intentional lying.
The Associated Press has a story up today which is mostly based on speaking to another activist named Vienna. Vienna was Tortugita’s girlfriend.
“It was a magical experience for me, being able to live out our ideals,” Vienna told The Associated Press, recalling how the protesters shared clothing, food and money, all while engaging in community activism. She and Tortuguita quickly fell in love during those warm, late summer days.
That was before. Before a Jan. 18 police operation that ended in gunfire, leaving 26-year-old Tortuguita dead and a state trooper hospitalized, shot in the abdomen. Officials have said officers fired in self-defense after Tortuguita, whose given name was Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, shot the trooper. Activists argue it was state-sanctioned murder…
“They were genuinely so generous and loving and always wanted to take care of people,” Vienna said of her partner, who last year took a 20-hour course to become a medic for the activists. “Their biggest thing was building communities of care.”
Eventually the AP gets around to asking Vienna something I asked last week. Did other “forest defenders” know Tortugita was armed? [emphasis added]
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said there is no body camera or dashcam footage of the shooting, but that ballistic analysis shows the trooper was shot by a bullet from a handgun in Tortuguita’s possession.
The GBI said Tortuguita was inside a tent and did not comply with officers’ commands prior to firing at authorities. Vienna declined to comment when asked whether she knew if her partner had a gun, though the GBI says records show Tortuguita legally purchased the firearm in 2020.
If should could have said no, she would have. So that’s a yes in my view. Also, kudos to the AP for at least mentioning all of the evidence other outlets have decided to omit from their coverage.
Finally, I think the weirdest defense of the “forest defenders” I’ve seen is this one from the New Yorker titled “Tots vs. Cop City.”
A dozen preschoolers arrived at the Highlander School, in East Atlanta, on a recent morning. Situated near a few gentrifying neighborhoods and a highway, the school offers what it calls “anti-bias and anti-racist, nature-centered” learning, for thirteen hundred dollars a month. Its four classrooms have a progressive-eclectic aesthetic: squiggly portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr., beside displays of alternative currencies (shells) and children’s books about activism (“The Art of Protest”)…
…another teacher introduced the topic of the day.
“What’s going on in Weelaunee Forest?” she said.
“Trees,” someone said. “They’re cutting down the trees.”
The teacher asked the toddlers why. “Because they want to make Cop City,” a girl in a pink dress answered.
“And do we want Cop City to go there?”
“No,” the children called out in unison.
If you’re wondering how this has anything to do with the shooting, it turns out the founder of this progressive pre-school was friends with Tortugita. Needless to say, she doesn’t believe he shot a police officer:
“I don’t believe it,” Rukia Rogers, the founder of the Highlander School, told a visitor while the kids were at recess. Rogers knew Teran; they gave her a massage on her birthday last year.
So another person claiming Tortugita was a peaceful person (and a great masseuse) and yet no one can explain why he bought a gun, why he had it with him in the forest or deny that his gun was used to shoot the trooper. At some point, these character witnesses really don’t matter so long as the evidence of what happened is clear. Tortugita wasn’t a hero, he was someone who shot a police officer.