For the past couple of years, the City of Atlanta, Georgia, has been pushing forward a project nicknamed “Cop City” — a tactical training compound featuring a mock city which has been referred to as a kind of war base where police will learn military-style maneuvers. The 90 million dollar compound would be built on somewhere between 60 and 300 acres of forest in Atlanta — a space known as the Weelaunee Forest, one of the largest urban forests in the country.
As a result of this controversial and extremely unpopular development, a grassroots response has taken shape to stop “Cop City.” One of the responses has been by those known as forest protectors, forest defenders, or tree dwellers — activists who have camped out in the forest hoping to stop the clearcutting, bulldozing, and destruction of the forest from happening. On January 18th, one of these forest protectors, known by their forest name “Tortuguita,” or “Little Turtle” was killed by police during a raid.
This killing has launched the story of “Cop City” — and the grassroots movement fighting against it — into national and even international headlines. In this episode of The Response, we’ve brought on two individuals who are part of that movement to break things down for us.
Jesse Pratt López is a photographer, documentarian, and organizer involved in the stop cop city movement based in Atlanta. Nolan Huber-Rhoades is a community journalist and filmmaker currently working on a documentary on “Cop City” who has also been covering the events since April of 2021.
What are the forces behind “Copy City”? What has the community response looked like — not just to the development itself but also to the brutal police response which has terrorized those protecting the forest? And how does the Stop Cop City movement bring together police abolition, climate change, land back, surveillance capitalism, and the right to protest all in one place? We explore all of these questions and more in this episode with Jesse and Nolan.
You can find Jesse Pratt López on Twitter and Instagram & Nolan Huber-Rhoades on Twitter and Instagram.
- The Atlanta Solidarity Fund
- GoFundMe for Family of Manuel “Tortuguita” Páez Terán
- Food Not Bombs Atlanta
- Community Movement Builders
- Defend the Atlanta Forest
- Little Turtle’s War published by Bitter Southerner
- Host, producer, and editor: Robert Raymond
- Presenter and executive producer: Tom Llewellyn
- Theme Music: “Meet you on the other side” by Cultivate Beats
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For a full list of episodes and resources to strengthen and organize your community, visit www.theresponsepodcast.org.
A full transcript of “Stop Cop City with Jesse Pratt López & Nolan Huber-Rhoades” is available below.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:00:04] Every city is Cop City. Stop Cop City. That is, I think, the power of this movement. And hopefully what we can continue to expand here is that Cop City isn’t stopped until the police are abolished — until policing is no more. Because every city is under occupation by a violent, militarized state force that serves wealthy people and protects their wealth and their property. And yeah, every city is Cop City, and Cop City is not stopped — even if we stop this one in Atlanta from being built — it is not stopped until we have abolished the police.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:00:59] Welcome back to The Response — a biweekly interview and audio documentary series where we explore how communities respond to disaster, from hurricanes to wildfires to reactionary politics and more. I’m Tom Llewellyn. For the past couple of years, the city of Atlanta, Georgia, has been pushing forward a project nicknamed Cop City, a tactical training compound featuring a mock city which has been referred to as a kind of war base where police will learn military-style maneuvers. The $90 Million compound would be built on somewhere between 60 and 300 acres of forest in Atlanta, a space known as the Weelaunee Forest, one of the largest urban forests in the country.
[00:01:40] As a result of this controversial and extremely unpopular development, a grassroots response has taken shape to stop Cop City. One of the responses has been by those known as force protectors, forest defenders or tree dwellers — activists who have camped out in the forest hoping to stop the clear-cutting, bulldozing and destruction. On January 18, one of these forest protectors known by their forest name is Tortuguita or “Little Turtle,” was killed by police during a raid in the forest. This killing has launched the story of Cop City and the grassroots movement fighting against it into national and even international headlines.
[00:02:18] In this episode of The Response, we’ve brought on two individuals who are part of that movement to break things down for us. Jesse Pratt López is a photographer, documentarian and organizer involved in the Stop Cop City Movement. And Nolan Huber-Rhoades is a community journalist and filmmaker, currently working on a documentary on Cop City. He has also been covering the event since April of 2021.
[00:02:41] So what are the forces behind Cop City? What is the community response look like — not just the development itself, but also to the brutal police response which has terrorized those protecting the forest? And how does the Stop Cop City movement bring together police abolition, climate change, land back, surveillance capitalism and the right to protest all in one place? Here’s Robert Raymond, who will be hosting today’s interview and exploring all of those questions with our guests on today’s show.
Robert Raymond: [00:03:24] Welcome to The Response, it is great to have you both on. We’ve been meaning to do an episode on Cop City and Atlanta forest defenders and all of the things going on down there for quite some time now. So it’s really great to have you both on. And I’m wondering to start if you could both briefly introduce yourselves and maybe tell us a little bit about how you came to do the work that you’re doing.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:03:50] Hey, this is Jesse Pratt López. My pronouns are she/her. I’m a photographer, documentarian and organizer that really has been involved in the movement in different capacities since the beginning, when some activists obtain the information that they were going to propose the building of this facility and the information was obtained. And then really right off the bat — and this was in April of 2021 — people started organizing and trying to inform as many people as possible.
[00:04:25] And yeah, it started right in the park, in Weelaunee People’s Park with a potluck. And yeah, it hasn’t stopped since then. I have been documenting the movement in different capacities, both for defense and as well as being part of a coalition, the Weelaunee Coalition that centers children and Black residents and Indigenous folks like Muskogee, who in late 2021 were part of a stomp dance that was organized to include them in the movement and in the fight to stop capacity and recognize that this is happening on stolen Muskogee land.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:05:08] My name is Nolan Huber-Rhoades. I am a community journalist, which really means I do journalism work often for the love of my community and not for money. Although sometimes every now and then I get to get paid to do it, which is always nice to get paid for your work. But also recognizing that these stories, especially the story around Cop City, needs to be told. And often, especially with the media systems that we currently have and the ways that they trend corporate, there isn’t a lot of funding to tell these stories. So there is an abundance of love, though, and we have a lot of people like Jesse and myself who, yeah, really get to help document the movement.
[00:05:52] So I’m a community journalist and a filmmaker. I’m actually working on a feature-length film about this movement alongside the phenomenal film director Lev Omelchenko. And so we’ve been working on that. Really, Lev and I have been talking about making that documentary since April of 2021 and kind of started filming a little bit here and there. And then more recently really picked up. We actually signed a tentative agreement with Muddy Waters production last week to keep moving this thing along.
[00:06:25] So I got involved early on as a reporter with Mainline Atlanta, which was kind of a left Atlanta-based publication that did some really great hard-hitting reporting — and Aja Arnold is a comrade who started that. And then I was organizing with the Defund APD, Refund Communities coalition, and we were really on the ground early on in the beginning. Before the city council vote, a lot of — so we had a lot of people who really jumped into the movement early on once the plans were announced, because what we’re talking about here is a $90 million anywhere between 85 and 380 acres — because they keep changing how much of the forest they want to take — police training facility, that will have a mock city, which we refer to as Cop City, where they will practice urban military tactics and protest suppression.
[00:07:24] Very similar to the response in the 1970s after the civil rights movement, Black liberation movement, the antiwar movement were really gaining steam — a lot of these police facilities created what they call riot spills so that they could practice how to handle riots during uprisings. And so we are pretty confident that this is the purpose of Cop City. It’s a bit of a reward for the cops who stayed on after the 2020 uprising, and it’s a way for them to practice suppressing that more effectively in the future.
[00:07:56] So we understood that there were a lot of people who already knew that the city council was going to ignore Atlanta voters, Atlanta residents and the people who live in unincorporated DeKalb County outside just outside of Atlanta, who don’t have representation, which is where the facility is going to be built, or they are trying to build the facility, it won’t be built there. And we understood kind of early on that a lot of people were going to be — already understood that the city council was not going to say no to this, but our coalition early on wanted to really do a lot of doorknocking, do a lot of engagement, have people call their representatives, not because we believed that the representatives would actually do something, but we understood that there needed to be a case for escalation. We understood that there needed to be — sometimes people are not going to respond very well when you say, Hey, you’re elected officials don’t care about you, so just come on and join this movement because we’re not doing the electoral stuff. So what we really wanted to do was get people engaged in that so that they would have the experience of being completely ignored by their city council members so that it was easier to help bring their outrage and disappointment with that and mobilize it into the movement. And I think that that part of the strategy was fairly effective.
Robert Raymond: [00:09:21] Thank you for that. That’s really helpful orienting our listeners towards what’s going on, the history, how this all got started. And yeah, I mean, I really appreciate that idea of the case for escalation which you outlined. And I’m wondering if maybe you can talk a little bit about that escalation since that’s sort of been — I mean, this has been going on, like you said, for almost a couple of years now in April 2021 is when it began. And I don’t really think it has, at least nationally, hit headlines, even nearly in the way that it has just in the last couple of weeks. And this is, of course, due to the recent horrific events, the police killing, which I’m going to ask you about in a little bit, but I want to, before we sort of go down that path, just to rewind a little bit and talk about — so there was the door-knocking that you talked about as a sort of community response. What do you refer to when you refer to the escalation? And maybe you can talk a little bit about the occupation of the actual forest and the role of forest defenders in this sort of broader ecosystem of this movement to stop Cop City.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:10:32] I can speak to the first one. Really, what I mean by the case for escalation is tactics that are potentially criminalized by the state for their own protection, but still like the right and just thing to do. Of course we make the distinction between the law of this land is built on white supremacy and settler colonialism and is illegitimate and not in any way moral. But we also understand how narratives work and how things like that go. So really what I mean for the case for Escalation is we didn’t want — at least I’ll speak for myself, this is an autonomous movement. So, like, there are people with all kinds of different perspectives and approaches, and that’s part of what makes it great. So I can really only speak for me. For me, that really was escalating alongside whatever the state was doing to escalate. So like not a ton of like proactive escalation, but for instance, once the city council vote was passed, that is when there was a call out to begin occupying the forest. And there may have been some occupation a little bit before that as well, because people kind of understood…
Robert Raymond: [00:11:52] Just to clarify, the city council vote, if you could clarify what that was for folks who aren’t familiar.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:11:57] Oh, yes. Let me give background on that. So in the fall of 2021, or really starting April 2021, Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd from District 12 in Atlanta introduced a proposal to lease 381 acres of the largest urban forest in the United States, which is located just outside of the city limits of Atlanta. It’s within the perimeter — 285 is an interstate that runs around Atlanta. We say like inside the perimeter, outside the perimeter, it is still inside the perimeter around Atlanta. Again, it is the largest urban forest in the United States. And the Atlanta climate report says that it is the city’s lungs. So it’s a very essential forest that has, of course, a dark history of colonization. It was turned into a plantation and it was — after plantation slavery was abolished, it was used as a prison farm to re-incarcerate and reenslave Black people. So that’s kind of the history of the land.
[00:13:08] The city of Atlanta still owned it after it was a prison farm. So they’ve kind of kept it in the family and now they’ve moved it from a plantation to a prison, and now they’re trying to give it to the police. They’re really trying to keep this thing in the family. And, Joyce Sheperd, like I said, introduced an ordinance to lease that land, 381 acres, for $10 per year to the Atlanta Police Foundation, who is building a — really a privately owned because it’s owned by the foundation — Cop City, where they will train the police in those urban military tactics, as I said, and have their shooting ranges and car driving testing areas, helicopter landing pads. You know, the whole, like, I mean, it’s basically a military base. The model almost looks like something out of an Avengers movie where like the Avengers train, like it’s really, really, really eerie. And so that vote was passed by the city council in October, November of 2021. So that’s — passed that through.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:14:17] The only thing I’ll add about the vote, it passed after 17 hours of public comment that were 70% opposed to the construction of the facility — it is every day Atlanta residents that voiced their opinions but did not have any voice before the vote because of the proposed facility being in unincorporated DeKalb County. So they didn’t have any representation. And then, yeah, that really escalated the movement because it was approved by the city. The only person who was able to cancel the lease now is the mayor. And yeah, I believe five or six protesters were arrested after the vote, after they were just protesting on the sidewalk outside of the home of Joyce Sheperd, right?
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:15:04] It was the council president, Madeline Archibald — no, she was running for council president. Sorry, She was a councilmember, Madeline Archibald
Robert Raymond: [00:15:13] And the protesters were protesting out of that person who is now the president’s home and they were arrested?
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:15:19] She lost the election to become president. She lost the election to become council president. But because they were doing the vote through Zoom, even though they technically could have been back in the office at that point and had made attempts to start meeting again in person, they intentionally waited until after this vote so that they could vote from the comfortability of their own homes and not face us.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:15:42] Right.
Robert Raymond: [00:15:43] And so that’s why the protests went outside the homes. Okay. Yeah. Sorry. So, Jesse, you were sort of outlining the trajectory there. So there was the protest and they were arrested and…
Jesse Pratt López: [00:15:54] Yeah. And that kind of happened after that escalation, I feel like, yeah, the occupation spontaneously, autonomously occurred in the forest. And the charges were ridiculous. They were like pedestrian in a roadway when people were on the sidewalk. So, yeah, this was like the first like escalation by the police and, you know, has led all the way to now the domestic terrorism charges.
Robert Raymond: [00:16:18] Yeah, maybe if you could talk a little bit about that lead up. So I think that most folks listening to this are probably aware that in the last week there has been a major escalation in what’s been going on in the Atlanta forest. So, yeah, just maybe talk a little bit about what was going on with the forest defenders, what they were doing and then what led to the police killing of Tortuguita, is the forest name of Manuel Terán.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:16:51] I guess something that came out recently was that — and you might have more information about the land disturbance permit, which I believe is what is needed to be approved before they can clear cut, start doing clear-cutting on the forest. So and I believe it’s been denied like four times or something like that. And yeah, the city of Atlanta is trying to get this permanent approved — or DeKalb County, and they’ve been doing preparations to do so. And that has included increasing raids on the on the occupation and violently removing nonviolent protesters from tree sits and using violent tactics like rubber bullets and pepper spray.
[00:17:34] And the trajectory of where we’re at right now kind of began on December 13th by an escalation of the police to kind of prepare the land for what they’re trying to do now is pass this land disturbance permit through — or expedite it. And then at the same time — and this is for construction on the old Atlanta Prison Farm side where Cop City will actually be built, the actual facility. And then the other side of the forest that’s under threat is technically not owned by the city of Atlanta. It’s owned by this millionaire, Ryan Millsap, who was the former CEO of formerly Blackhall Studios, now Shadowbox Studios, he is no longer the CEO, but he acquired the 40 acres of land through a land swap. This land is the park, the public park that people have been using for years, where people walk their dogs, where joggers and bikers use it, and where the birth of the movement kind of began. And where people meet weekly for potlucks, where public events have happened with the preschoolers. So this is like — it doesn’t have a lot of infrastructure. It just was a gazebo and like a few paths. But the people really made it their own park.
[00:18:53] And yeah, because of this, to bring down morale, to divide the movement, to try to get people to give up, Ryan Millsap destroyed the park as well on December 13th. And this was illegal because the terms of the land swap were that he had to build another park on the land that he swapped with before he made any development on the land of Weelaunee People’s Park. But he didn’t do so and he just went ahead and destroyed it anyway. So this is illegal, you know, destruction of property, which, you know, and people love to call violence. And this man was doing that — did on December 13th and then concurrently the raid on the force happened with the initial charges of domestic terrorism, I believe.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:19:38] Yeah, that’s when the first domestic terrorism charges came. And to kind of give a window into what that raid specifically looked like — so I’ve been, because of working on this documentary and of course, just doing community reporting and stuff like that, I’m on the ground in the capacity of a journalist quite often. And any time there’s been a raid, I’ve tried to get down there just to kind of like scope out the situation. And basically what they do is they block off access to the roads so that journalists can’t get in, so nobody can really like monitor what they’re doing. And then they kind of block off one side of the road and the other side. And then in the middle is where they carry out their operation. They kind of flood into the forest. And of course, forest defenders have built tree sits and have hiding-holes and use other tactics in order to…
Robert Raymond: [00:20:36] And these are folks that live in the forest?
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:20:38] They live in the forest, yeah.
Robert Raymond: [00:20:41] Just wanted to clarify that part.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:20:42] Yes. So folks who are occupying, who we have been referring to as forest defenders — although some of them would say that they don’t like that name because the forest actually doesn’t need defense, that the forest is our ally in this struggle, and the forest is actually there to protect humans in this reciprocal way. And so a lot of folks who are living out there would like to refer to themselves in a more reciprocal relationship with the land and with the trees, the trees providing cover and shelter. And, you know, tree sits like way up in the trees so that it’s hard for police to extract people.
[00:21:25] And specifically on that December 13th raid, they teargassed one of the people occupying the forest for 6 hours into their tree sit, which is basically a tree house way up, and it’s hard to get into and all of that. And they tear-gassed into the inside of it for 6 hours before they finally kind of said, all right, like I’ve had enough. And they came down and when they came down, they were met with domestic terrorism charges. After being teargassed for 6 hours. They were the one met with domestic terrorism charges, to be clear.
Robert Raymond: [00:22:01] Yeah. Okay, so now I appreciate you giving some of the details of that earlier raid which did not hit headlines. Can you talk about going through, I guess, the trajectory? So the most recent raid ended in the police killing an individual who we have been referring to as forest defenders. But thank you for adding that extra context. And so this, I’m assuming, was a similar sort of raid that they were going to embark on. The police, they brought in SWAT team, state troopers, I believe it was sort of a multiagency effort. And yeah, someone was killed. And if you all are comfortable with it and you’d like to sort of talk a little bit about the most recent escalation, what happened, what was the police response like and how did this spark what really felt like a fairly local movement into something that has just been, you know, really, like I’ve been saying, hitting headlines and been talked about a lot more recently.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:23:08] If I can add a little bit of context, Jesse and I were both covering a press conference on December 14th, the day after the first raid, and, I should say the first raid where people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. That wasn’t the first raid. And a representative from the Atlanta Solidarity Fund was speaking at the press conference. And I can actually get you the audio from this if you’d like, because I videoed it and posted it on Twitter. But they said these domestic terrorism charges, this isn’t word for word, but basically they said these domestic terrorism charges are laying the foundation, laying the groundwork for them to be able to justify killing someone. And a month and like seven days later, they did.
Marlon (Atlanta Solidarity Fund): [00:24:02] “And it’s clear that if the public doesn’t respond, if the public doesn’t do something about this, that escalation is going to continue. Are we going to end up in a situation where the police are murdering protesters in order to advance not public safety, but their particular political agenda in building Cop City?”
Jesse Pratt López: [00:24:22] Yeah, So this could have been avoided — this didn’t need to happen. But many are not surprised because of how historically police have responded to resistance, whether it’s nonviolent or not. And yeah, not only were people publicly warned and these domestic terrorism charges set the precedent for this murder, but, I mean, it’s not like the city council wasn’t aware, even if this didn’t make national media. Yeah, the leaders of this city were very much aware of this escalation and apparently were trying to meet with the mayor, Andre Dickens, about the conditions of the forest and the escalations. But he refused to meet about the subject and now there’s blood on his hands. And so far there’s been no statement from the mayor about the murder, only about the subsequent protests and the destruction of property. Yeah.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:25:21] The morning of the raid where the police murdered Tortuguita, I was on my way to the forest. And I was still on the interstate when I got the news that somebody had been killed and we didn’t know who it was. And yeah, the 48 hours between then and us knowing was, like, really excruciating. And I mean, of course, has been afterwards as well. But like also when you don’t like have somebody to grieve and it’s just like sitting there and it’s like — there’s just something so…violent about that. Like, about them withholding the information afterwards about the way that they are trying to spin the story, which we can get into.
[00:26:25] But that morning, all around the entire Weelaunee Forest, which is which is made up of Millsap’s land, the 200 acres that Millsap already clear-cut before swapping the land with DeKalb County to take away Weelaunee People’s Park, and the area where the old Atlanta Prison Farm sat, there were state trooper vehicles positioned every 100 yards around the entire forest so that if anybody were to try to leave the forest, they would be — you have to go out to a road somewhere. And they had every exit covered 100 yards between each other. And then the Atlanta Police Department went in on one side with their SWAT team and the DeKalb County Police Department in another place with their SWAT team.
[00:27:17] And Tortuguita was actually on part of the land that wasn’t either Ryan Millsap’s or the city of Atlanta’s — it was like past the line where like the public park area that Millsap swapped with started. So it was actually like in a public park, like undisputedly in a public park. And at least from what we know, Tortuguita was possibly in a tent or like under a tarp of some sort. And neighbors said there were a lot of gunshots. We don’t know exactly how many, but several, meaning that there were several firearms discharged in the process and a state trooper was shot and Tortuguitawas killed.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:28:08] They said it was twelve gunshots.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:28:10] Twelve?
Jesse Pratt López: [00:28:12] Direct from subsequent gunshots and not like back and forth, which contradicts their story of Tortuguita shooting anyone. Activists and organizers are not refuting the story just because, you know, we lost our comrade. We’re refuting the story also because the facts are not conclusive. And we know that historically police have lied and have not been accountable.
[00:28:39] The 12 gunshots that were heard by other forest defenders or neighbors were not a back-and-forth shootout, which, like some media, even The New York Times, I believe, reported that it was a shootout. And I believe that was the only time The New York Times actually reported on the forest or maybe the second time. But yeah. And yeah, since there’s been a weapon produced — and I do not believe that either, they said that it was purchased in Georgia in February of 2020. And I know that Tortuguita did not even arrive to the occupation until May. So it just doesn’t make sense. And yeah, I think we all will continue to try to clear Tortuguita’s name. But at the end of the day, they shot and killed a person.
[00:29:32] And this is like fucking unprecedented. There has never actually been in this country the murder or the killing of a land defense or environmental protester. We have this conception of the US as this model country where these things don’t happen, but they have happened and they’re happening. You know, I’m from Colombia, where violence like this is a lot more brazen and out in the open, but it’s really not that different. I mean in the US, like, yeah, so much money is invested in these in the police to allegedly keep people safe. And they are painting forest defenders as violent. And the state, they’re endangering neighborhoods when they literally have just been occupying the forest peacefully.
[00:30:22] And Tortuguita, that’s all they did. They literally were the most peaceful and sweet person. And they brought so much joy to everyone they met, whether it was joggers that were, you know, just walking by and they’re like, what’s going on? They were happy to talk to them. And yeah, it was just it was like thinking about the day that between Wednesday and Thursday and I got the news, thankfully, from my dad, who is a journalist also, and we’ve collaborated on the movement as well. And yeah, he called me on Wednesday and told me like I knew this would happen — somebody was killed. And then I just didn’t think it would be Tortuguita. Like, none of us did. Because, yeah, and no one deserved to die, but no one thought it would be Tortuguita.
Robert Raymond: [00:31:23] Yeah. Thank you for that.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:31:25] Something that my friend and the director on the film I’m working on, Lev Omelchenko, said, is that they most likely killed one of the most beloved people in this movement. And not that anybody deserves to die at the hands of the state or suffer through an execution like that. But I think it just like, because Tortuguita was so friendly and made— built relationships very intentionally that it just like it stings a lot. And it’s such a great loss to our movement for someone as vibrant and friendly and just like such an incredible, incredible organizer — was so good at getting people mobilized. And yeah, it’s just, like, as a friend, as an organizer, as a movement. And, of course, like I didn’t know Tortuguita as well as Jesse. And of course there are people who were even closer. But it just stings a lot.
[00:32:30] And I just wanted to say one more thing about being the first land offender in the US who was killed by the state. And I wish I remember who said it so that I could shout them out right now. But something that we understand is that fascism is when imperialism kind of returns home. And the US has been complicit and often, at least the corporations from the US and our billionaires, have been the driving force of so many of the over 1,600 climate activists who have been killed. And as fascism continues to rise in this country, we will see the fruits of what we’ve sown around the world, continue to come home if we do not do something about it.
Robert Raymond: [00:33:22] Yeah. Thanks for adding that. I want to ask you, I guess both now, I guess what happened after the raid — after Tortuguita was killed? The uprising, the grassroots response, the police’s response, and sort of, yeah, where things sort of are right now.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:33:41] Yeah. I mean, the grassroots response here was immediate. Even before we knew who it was, we knew how significant and egregious this killing was and that this would be a turning point in the movement. Yeah, there was a vigil like immediately the day that we found out of the murder and then another one in the park. Once we found out it was Tortuguita — I heard that there has been at least 50 vigils in other cities and across the country and the world. I’ve had comrades messaged me from London saying, I think their vigil is tomorrow, actually like asking for information about Tortuguita.
[00:34:27] So, yeah, there is a vigil at Emory, which is important because there are several people, professors and head of the institutions that are complicit with Cop City that are on the board for APF. And there was a vigil there. And yeah, people have been mobilizing and taking care of each other. The Wednesday potlucks and food distribution that happens every Wednesday continued like even after the murder, like people still showed up and, you know, fed each other and had a grief circle. And obviously, the reverberations have been international and in the media as well. And of course, there has been protesting as well, which is always a contentious subject. But I feel that, I mean, ultimately, it brings visibility to what happened at the end of the day. And people who are actually on the side of stopping capacity and police brutality understand that the destruction of property is not the same thing as the loss of human life or more than human life.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:35:41] I’ll just say that I was on the ground as a reporter during that. Jesse was right next us for the majority of it. And we were yeah, we were there reporting. And it was a fairly short action. A police car was set on fire. The windows to the Atlanta Police Foundation were busted and the windows of a Wells Fargo were also busted. And Wells Fargo is one of the large donors to the Atlanta Police Foundation. And I think it is very important that this action is contextualized, that, because I think mainstream corporate media really wants to spin this action as like, oh, like if you’re in Atlanta, you’re not safe because of these Antifas, or whatever they’re saying. But I think it is really important to contextualize that the places that were hit were ones that have blood on their hands, who are responsible for the conditions within which Tortuguita was murdered. And I can’t speak for others. So I’ll just say for me, I mean, just like of course as somebody observing and just documenting things, that seems like probably a pretty light response when you think about it, like in the full context.
Robert Raymond: [00:37:08] It seems like what’s happening with the forest defense in Atlanta is perhaps one of the most important radical actions taking place in the country right now. And I mean, particularly in light of the most recent brutal police murder of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. And we know that these are not isolated one-offs. These are regular occurrences. And what happened in Atlanta is sort of a convergence of this like horrifying police terror with climate change, with the right to protest — these are all issues that are converging in a single place. And I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on any anything that I just said.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:37:53] In LA, just in January, LAPD murdered Keenan Anderson, they killed two people who were in the midst of mental health crises — just in January, just this month they have killed at least three people. And I believe there may have been one more, but I’m not 100% sure on that. The Memphis Police Department, their Scorpion Unit murdered Tyre Nichols. In Cherokee County, North Carolina, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department sent their SWAT team and their SWAT team shot a man who walked out of his trailer with his hands in the air multiple times. And of course, here in Georgia, the police executed Tortuguita. And that is not even touching all of the other places where police have carried out executions of people just this month.
[00:38:54] So just to kind of like pull all of those together, like we are in solidarity with our comrades in LA and in Memphis and in North Carolina and anywhere. You know, I heard a chant actually from one of the D.C. protests, that, like, really I was almost cried because they were chanting, “Every city is Cop City,. Stop Cop City.” And to me, there was this idea that that is, I think, the power of this movement. And hopefully what we can continue to expand here, is that Cop City isn’t stopped until the police are abolished, until policing is no more. Because every city is under occupation by a violent, militarized state force that serves wealthy people and protects their wealth and their property. And yeah, every city is Cop City, and Cop City is not stopped — even if we stop this one in Atlanta from being built, it is not stopped until we have abolished the police.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:40:07] Yeah, and in Tortuguita words, and until the land is given back as well.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:40:12] Yes.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:40:13] I have been thinking about how the violence of prisons and police just perpetuate violence, and how we saw that with Tyre Nichols, with the murder of Tyre Nichols, apparently the five officers who are Black were already charged with murder. And I just think, I mean, they’re probably going to end up in jail, I mean, especially after all the public pressure after 2020. And it just makes me so sad that we’re just going to — the solution to this violence is just to incarcerate these five Black men. And these are the solutions that the state continues to invest in and continues to invest money in — and whatever forms of reform as well that they believe will lower any harm, but it won’t like, for example, like body cams. Like that was one of the main reforms that came out of 2020, I believe, or maybe earlier. And that’s not preventing people from getting killed. And with Tortuguita, they claimed that there’s not even bodycam footage or that Georgia State Patrol doesn’t always have body cameras.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:41:29] They’re the only state agency that doesn’t. And that’s why they were sent in. I mean, at least that is my opinion.
Robert Raymond: [00:41:37] There is a photo circulating online that claims that that particular group of them had body cameras. So I’m not quite sure about the details on that, but there seems to be conflicting…
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:41:52] Yeah, that was the Atlanta Police Department SWAT team who was also on site — that picture that’s been circulating of the body cameras, that is the Atlanta Police Department SWAT team who does have to wear body cameras. The Georgia State Patrol does not. And that’s why…yeah. And just a little bit on the body cams thing, Axon, who makes body cam systems for police, they are funding Cop City. They’re one of the funders. So, like, we really, I hope, can interrogate the types of demands that we’re making, because when we make demands, as Jesse said, like in 2020, one of the big demands coming out of ‚ it was, every cop needs to wear body cameras. You know what that does? It gives the police more money so that they can buy them and they buy them from Axon, who uses that to increase surveillance technology and fund more policing. So we really have to interrogate these demands that we bring up, as Jesse was mentioning a moment ago.
Robert Raymond: [00:43:01] I believe it was an interview with Alex Vitale, who wrote “The End of Policing,” where he mentioned how the body cam footage is oftentimes owned by the police departments themselves. No accountability, no oversight really over them. And I mean, just the whole body cam thing is like, we’re all sitting here watching the — well, I didn’t watch it, but, you know, like figuratively watching the hundredth horrible murder of somebody on released body cam video. And how could you be watching one of those videos and think, oh, the solution to this is more body cams? It’s like, you know, that just doesn’t it doesn’t add up. It doesn’t square.
[00:43:40] I think that you all are completely on point with the discussion around reform and abolition. I personally am a police abolitionist. I believe that the police that were involved in the murder of George Floyd had been trained in mindfulness, diversity training, all of the above. They’d witnessed dozens of hours of training videos, all of that kind of stuff. And I think that there’s something much, much deeper going on there. And so I’m glad that you all are bringing that up in this idea of police abolition.
[00:44:14] Our last interview was with folks at Tha Hood Squad here in the Bay Area, in Oakland, and one of the things that they do in addition to a bunch of other mutual aid work that they do, including serving omelette, breakfasts and just all sorts of really great stuff, which I also want to ask about the mutual aid question — I know that, Jesse, you said you were involved in that, but one of the things that they do is they have sort of a Panther Patrol-esque night shift where they go and they police the police and they were telling us about some of their experiences and just the terror that is inflicted on communities, especially underground economies by the police. Oakland Police Department, themselves, are still under federal oversight after — I won’t get into too many of the details, but they’ve fucked up enough that they’re under federal oversight, still, after like 20 years, lots of scandals and stuff that goes beyond sort of the ambient terror that exists all the time.
[00:45:14] But, I mean, I guess this is a pretty rough transition, but I do want to know a little bit more about — I understand, Jesse, that you were involved in some mutual aid work in the forest defense sort of ecosystem. And yeah, I would love to know a little bit more about what that looked like. And maybe if you could sketch us a picture of, like, you had mentioned, that is an autonomous movement in response to Cop City and yeah, maybe talking a little bit about what that means, what that looks like, the role that mutual aid plays and sort of how folks involved in this work are taking care of each other in sort of these spontaneous, mutual aid, sort of solid artistic ways.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:46:02] Yeah, there’s a huge ecosystem in Atlanta — several ecosystems of mutual aid, that naturally the movement to defend the forests are an extension of and connected to. And I feel like that’s what sustain the movement — I feel like without it forest defenders and anyone participating in the movement wouldn’t be able to continue the resistance. Whether it be Food Not Bombs, the chapter in Atlanta, especially in 2020, they built a robust infrastructure around food distribution and not only having food distros, but during COVID, during the first year of COVID, distributing food directly to people.
[00:46:44] Now there is food distro at different locations, including the forest, and it really has been a way for forest defenders to have food and feed themselves, but also a way to connect to the neighborhoods around the forest and provide mutual aid to them as well. And because we know those are the people which are primarily Black and Brown folks that are going to be affected if this training facility is built. So there’s been many efforts to connect mutual aid efforts to neighbors and around the forest. Yeah, I’ve been part of canvassing, trying to let people know to come to the forest, like this is like still a public park regardless of what the city, Ryan Millsap or the police tries to say or do.
[00:47:36] Yeah, it’s definitely difficult to hold all of the different threads because you know, the city — I forget when this was, this was like maybe like in May or in the summer, like a week before a week of action, there have been several weeks of action to bring out new people to the forest. During the weeks of actions are where you see the mutual aid thrive because so many people come and just bring their skills with them. There’s always a medicine tent with tinctures and trained medics, like Tortuguita, who was a trained medic, always there if people need anything. And there’s people that come down who are like professional cooks and cook for hundreds of people.
[00:48:15] So, yeah, before one of the weeks of action, I think they tried to illegally close the park and put up barricades, like huge concrete barricades that you can’t move without a truck. And there’s this emergency meeting, like, what are we going to do? Like they’re trying to close the park. This is going to deter people from wanting to come out. Ultimately, somebody moved the barricades and the show went on. And yeah, there’s just been continued resistance regardless of the obstacles. So, yeah, these barricades and stuff like that definitely made it difficult for other people to access the forest. Like neighbors were like, you know, this place looks dangerous, like what’s going on? But the movement definitely — and people doing canvassing — definitely tried to connect those threads and assured people that this was still legally a public park and they have every right to use it, they have every right to enjoy the forest and the bike paths.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:49:12] The only thing I wanted to share as far as mutual aid goes is, I know, at least for me, and maybe also for you, Jesse, that I wouldn’t be able to do community-based reporting without mutual aid. I get some film jobs, like every now and then and I have a day job that pays me a little bit, but, not enough to really survive in this economy and without being able to get my groceries from a distro, you know, at least like once a month or so, a lot of the work that I’m doing here wouldn’t even be possible. And that’s the part of mutual aid that is so important —it’s really the engine in a lot of ways that helps everybody play their role well. And without it, it’s just hard to sustain a movement.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:50:06] Yeah, and Tortuguita was part of that, part of that engine, part of that, they really held it down as we see queer people of color always holding it down. And they started their own mutual aid networks and they ran an Instagram account called Brown Cat Mutual Aid that redistributed funds to POC for defenders. And yeah, they were really committed and rooted to mutual aid and anyone who met them knew that. They wanted to build a trans sanctuary on a nearby plot of land that a collective that I’m a part of was able to get in 2021. And they wanted to kind of live on that land full time. And it’s, I think, you know, because the forest, as we have seen, has been turned into a warzone by the police. And yeah, they had these dreams of creating self-sustaining different environments that were not rooted in capitalism and, yeah, rooted in mutual aid. So I’m really sad that they aren’t able to do that. But there are people that are going to be living on the land and continuing their dreams and making sure that the seeds that they planted grow into fruits. So, yeah.
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:51:25] And just like I think we’ve learned a lot from the land, from the forest — I am still, on a daily basis, being almost woken up by the forest in some ways to — deconstructing the colonialist dominant ways that I’ve at least been conditioned to think of the land in. But the forest is a mutual aid network. It is a network that sustains itself. And Adrienne Maree Brown often talks about how we can like model the earth and the land. There’s so much for us to learn in movement building about — actually, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. We just have to return to ourselves and to the earth and be in relationship in order to yeah, find the ways that we grow best and support each other best because that is truly — I mean, that’s what the forest does, what the Weelaunee Forest does. Until, of course, we — and when I say we, I just mean humans collectively, interrupt that.
[00:51:25] And then the only other thing I want to say on mutual aid is that one of the big groups in this movement has been Community Movement Builders. They’re rooted in a Black neighborhood of Atlanta called Pittsburgh, and they are a Black organization that does a lot of similar work as the organization you’re referring to in Oakland. They have the community patrol, they have grocery deliveries to their neighbors, on a weekly basis. So mutual aid is really the heartbeat of what they do. And they’re very engaged in this movement and some really powerful ways.
Robert Raymond: [00:53:13] As we close out, I’m wondering if there is anything that you want people to know in terms of how they can support? What are some of the biggest needs right now? What do you see moving forward?
Nolan Huber-Rhoades: [00:53:26] Yeah, I mean, yeah, the obvious ones, really, maybe we could just go with one for now because it is in need of some funds. But the Atlanta Solidarity Fund is who has been providing bail for anyone arrested in this struggle and providing representation for them. Part of the state repression that we’re experiencing here has been extremely high bail amounts — in the $350,000 per person range. And luckily, the Solidarity Fund has been well funded through mutual aid and through folks donating. But of course, when you have around 20 people arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, those bonds get very expensive. And so the Solidarity Fund is a great place to share some funds with, if that’s an option for you. And there some other ones.
Jesse Pratt López: [00:54:27] Yeah. Like you said, I think the bond for the people that were arrested during the protest on Saturday was $350,000. So yeah, the Solidarity Fund always needs support. I don’t know. There’s also a fundraiser for Tortuguita’s family on GoFundMe — they’re definitely going to need support. I think his mom had to apply for emergency visa from Panama to come here to be with reunited with her child. And I think she was she was granted the visa, luckily. But she’s definitely going to need support in subsequent months.
[00:55:02] But yeah, I mean, I feel like people everywhere can continue remembering Tortuguita, honoring them. And that’s super important To keep their spirit alive. There’s a really good Bitter Southerner article about them with a lot of quotes where they talk about their opinion about things, their commitment to nonviolence, their commitment to having not only their philosophy, not only being anti-police, but having a relationship with a forest. And yeah, I feel like I really wanted to echo what you said about having relationship with the forest because it really sounds woo woo, but it is the most important thing. I mean, the reason that we are here is because of the displacement and genocide of Indigenous people.
[00:55:48] And the reason where we are in this moment in history is because Muskogee people were removed and they were the stewards of the land that we now call Atlanta. And then the violence just perpetuated. And when we brought a Muskogee spiritual leader to Atlanta in April for a summit where they talked about land back, the history of the land, they were able to uncover the names of the people that were enslaved on the land. One of the things that needs to be done, first and foremost, that they talked about is a philosophy called rematriation, which is where repatriation is like literally giving land back, rematriation is something — an Indigenous philosophy of reclaiming our relationship with the land for Indigenous people, reclaiming their ancestral relationship. But for settlers and other people, building a relationship with the lands that where you are now occupying or living is so important. And I think that’s something that people who have actually been involved in the movement and have been going to the forest have done.
[00:56:48] I know I’ve never had this long of a relationship with a park, and it’s been so beautiful and healing for me. And yeah, and remembering that to be in solidarity and show up for Black and Brown folks more than you hate the police because I feel like that’s a sentiment that I hear on and on again. Because at the end of the day, the the violence that perpetuated by the police is going to affect Black and Brown folks the most, and especially in this case with folks — the residents who are living around the forest.
[00:57:22] So, yeah, I think people can continue to call and demand that the mayor drop the lease as well. People can call the contractors like Brasfield & Gorrie, demand them to divest from funding the construction of the facility. There’s a lot of things that people can do. But yeah, I think doing those internal work is just as important as doing the collective work to.
Chanting: [00:57:50] “If you build it, we will burn it!”
Tom Llewellyn: [00:58:13] You’ve been listening to an interview with Nolan Huber-Rhoades and Jesse Pratt López. The sounds of chanting you just heard were recorded by Nolan for his upcoming documentary on Cops City. You can learn more about all of the organizations mentioned in this episode and where to find Jesse and Nolan’s work online in the show notes.
[00:58:32] This episode of The Response was edited and hosted by Robert Raymond and was presented in executive produced by me, Tom Llewellyn. Additional communications and operations support were provided by Zanetta Jones and Allison Huff. The response theme music was written by Cultivate Beats. Support for the show has been provided by the Shift Foundation, Platform OS, and tax-deductible donations from listeners like you. This is a project of shareable.net — an award-winning nonprofit media outlet, action network, and consultancy promoting people-powered solutions for the common good. Please rate and review The Response wherever you get your podcasts — it really goes a long way in helping us extend our reach. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram @responsepodcast. That’s it for today’s show. Until next time, take care of each other.
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