Ann Arbor: Protest to Stop Cop City staged at Merrill Lynch and Porsche; Tortugita Remembered

friends of the forest
Ann Arbor: Protest to Stop Cop City staged at Merrill Lynch and Porsche; Tortugita Remembered

Just past nightfall on Saturday 1/28 a crowd of 50 to 100 gathered on Eisenhower Parkway, near the 777 building in south Ann Arbor, to protest the police murder in Atlanta of a beloved forest defender known as Tortugita. Many in the crowd wore black from head to toe in mourning; signs commemorating Tortugita and decrying police violence were visible throughout the crowd, along with a handful of candles lit in remembrance. 

Tortugita in the forest they defended and loved

Tortugita, often identified in media by the name Manuel Páez Terán, was in the Weelaunee forest with other forest defenders to prevent construction of “Cop City” —an unprecedented police militarization project complete with shooting ranges, race and skid track, a Black Hawk landing pad, and a mock city planned for training local and international forces in urban warfare tactics. In the early hours of Wednesday January 18th, police officers assassinated Tortugita in a multi-jurisdiction raid of the forest. Police claim that no body camera footage exists of the murder, despite Atlanta Police Department (APD) policy to record all police interactions and multiple public photos showing body cams at the scene. An independent autopsy revealed that multiple officers shot Tortugita at least 13 times.

The event in Ann Arbor opened with people sharing cherished memories of Tortugita and loving words for those present, as well as voicing support for the Stop Cop City and Defend the Atlanta Forest movement Tortugita was a part of. The south Atlanta forest, Muskogee Creek land also known as ‘Weelaunee Forest,’ has been the site of ongoing protests since 2021 when activists first blew the lid on a backroom deal between the Atlanta City government and the corporate-funded Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) to lease 350 acres of the Weelaunee forest to the APD and raze at least 85 acres of forest to construct Cop City. At the same time, a land swap deal struck with billionaire Ryan Millsap to clearcut another 40-acre swath of Intrenchment Creek Park, a public park in the forest, to build the world’s largest soundstage for military-themed movies was revealed. Despite overwhelming public disapproval and organized resistance through multiple conventional channels, political leadership in Atlanta green-lit construction. Soon after, forest defenders set up camp among the trees to block the development of the Cop City training center and the dystopic hollywood soundstage.  

At the Saturday protest, speakers in support of the movement pointed out how in the face of increasing climate collapse, gentrification and lack of affordable housing, poverty, and white supremacy, the city of Atlanta has decided to push through a wildly unpopular police facility in order to better control and kill anyone who resists, an agenda clearly demonstrated by their recent murder of Tortugita. 

vigil and demonstration in front of Merrill Lynch offices in Ann Arbor on 1/28/23

One person remembering their interactions with Tortugita described the community of woods-dwelling forest defenders as a “liberated space.” “It’s a space where people take care of each other. They cook meals together, they clean together, they build together, they sing and joke and sit around doing nothing together.” They remembered Tortugita as “an important part of my experience of freedom in Atlanta. They were funny, and smart, and good at being still.” The speaker explained how the Weelaunee encampment, in its own small way, had taught them “how different the world can be if we prioritize pleasure, joy, and life, rather than hierarchy and subjugation.” Another speaker described Tortugita as an extremely positive and dedicated force, who loved their QTBIPOC community immensely, and who would always help solve someone’s problems.

vigil and demonstration in front of Merrill Lynch offices in Ann Arbor on 1/28/23

After some time, mourners decided to take their grief to the streets. They marched towards State Street, taking one lane of traffic and marching north. The Ann Arbor police, who had been circling and observing the vigil since the beginning, moved into the street to block traffic and keep a closer eye on those grieving. As protesters marched, their chants filled the depressing, lifeless business park.

“Stop Cop City!”

“How do you spell Murderer? A-A-P-D!”

“Quit your job!”

“Remember Aura Rosser!”

vigil and demonstration in front of Merrill Lynch offices in Ann Arbor on 1/28/23

These messages were directed at the AAPD officers present. A “Stop Camp Grayling!” chant connected the struggle to Stop Cop City with a similar one local to Michigan: the struggle to prevent the National Guard training facility, known as Camp Grayling, from being expanded to twice the size of the city of Chicago. The plan to expand Camp Grayling—which has come under increasing scrutiny and disapproval from the public—was quietly hatched by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the National Guard in January 2022.

vigil and demonstration in front of Merrill Lynch offices in Ann Arbor on 1/28/23

As the march progressed, two landmarks were pointed out. The first was the corporate Merrill Lynch offices in the 777 building. Merrill Lynch is one corporate funder of the APF, which funnels money directly to the APD. “You have blood on your hands!” marchers screamed as they passed outside its offices. The second landmark was a Porsche dealership just down the road. Porsche is another funder of the APF and the Cop City project. While passing the dealership, mourners took the opportunity to leave messages against Cop City and requested that Porsche cut all ties with the APF. The march took a quick tour of their parking lot of inventory vehicles before heading back down State street to its origin, pushing increasingly nervous police SUVs backwards the entire way. Although there were no witnesses by our sources, (*it is recommended that you do not click this link unless using a VPN or similar–>) another report alleges vandalism took place at the Porsche dealership, including slashed tires and spray painted vehicles—actions in solidarity with the movement.

The march ended in a parking lot where some final words of grief and hope were shared, in remembrance of Tortugita and in defiance of Cop City and its world. Participants disbanded in groups, with apparently no further issues from the police who had shadowed the entire event.

vigil for Tortugita in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park on 1/20/23