In Atlanta, the forest that sets the city on fire


A forest under police protection. This day in March, men in uniform, leaning against the hood of their service vehicle, are posted in front of one of the entrances to the South River Forest, at the gates of Atlanta, in the south-east of the United States. Facing them, the charred carcass of a construction machine is the latest symbol of a struggle that has been waged for nearly two years between the city authorities and a motley coalition of opponents.

In question: the construction on thirty-four hectares of a gigantic training center for the police and firefighters in part of the largest urban forest in the capital of Georgia. “It’s a bit like the fight of David against Goliath”, summarizes Amy Taylor, red sunglasses on her head and studded boots on her feet. The 50-year-old lives a few steps away and she seems tired of seeing many police officers taking turns near her home every day. “Sometimes I feel like I’m breaking into my own property,” she sighs.

An activist killed by the police

These woods, young and long-neglected trees, belong to the Atlanta City Hall. Amid the low vegetation stand elms, maples and tulip trees. Where the forest is still accessible, tents have been pitched, canvas stretched between two trunks.

From March 4 to 11, opponents of the project called for a “week of action” to put the spotlight back on their commitment. The event began with the burning of construction machinery and the arrest of thirty-five people near the forest where a music festival was taking place. They are accused of having launched “stones, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks”. What further tender the atmosphere, already heavy since the death of an activist, January 18.

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The authorities then decided to dislodge the inhabitants of the forest. The operation turned tragic. A 26-year-old activist, Manuel Teran, known as “Tortuguita”, was killed by the security forces and an officer injured in circumstances that remain to be clarified. Police say the environmentalist fired first – a version disputed by his comrades, while officers were not carrying a body camera. According to an independent autopsy, carried out at the request of the family, Manuel Teran was shot at least thirteen times and had his hands up when he died. Faced with the little official information they have, his relatives have announced their intention to file a complaint against the city of Atlanta.

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