#1541 Tear down paradise put up a dystopian police state (Cop City) (Transcript)

Air Date 2/5/2022

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast, in which we shall take a look at the threat to the lives of environment protectors around the world, with a special focus on the first environmental activist in the US to lose their life at the hands of police, while defending the environment and the people who depend on it as part of the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement against the construction of what they have dubbed Cop City.

Clips today are from the BBC News, The Takeaway, Down to Earth, Unicorn Riot, Democracy Now!, a DW documentary, and NBC News, with additional members only clips from the Takeaway and Democracy Now!. And stay tuned to the end where I'll have a conversation with a friend of the fallen forest defender from the protest in Atlanta.

Record number of environmental activists murdered - BBC News - Air Date 9-13-21

LUCY HOCKINGS - ANCHOR, BBC NEWS: A record number of environmental activists were murdered last year. According to the campaign group Global Witness, there were more than 220 killings, many of them linked [00:01:00] to resource exploitation such as logging and mining. A third targeted indigenous people, the highest number of attacks, 65, was in Colombia.

So let's join now Louis Wilson, who is Senior Communications Advisor from Global Witness. Louis, good to see you. That's a shocking number: 220 people killed at a time when the climate crisis is getting worse by the day. What else did your report find?

LOUIS WILSON: Well, as you point out, our report found that as the climate crisis intensifies, so too does violence against those protecting the planet. Our report found a very clear link between resource exploitation -- so the felling of trees, the extraction of minerals -- and violence against people protecting the planet.

LUCY HOCKINGS - ANCHOR, BBC NEWS: So in some of these countries that we are looking at, is there just no protection or sufficient protection to protect those who are defending their land?

LOUIS WILSON: That's correct. And governments and [00:02:00] industry in these countries, the worst affected countries, have made it very clear that their priority is resource extraction over the rights and benefits of communities, especially indigenous communities in the global south and the planet.

LUCY HOCKINGS - ANCHOR, BBC NEWS: So you are seeing as well, I guess, unofficial agreements between state forces and and private companies too?

LOUIS WILSON: It's always more complicated than a direct agreement. And because of the way that the global economy is set up, it's often very difficult to point to a specific country. We can identify, in many cases, specific industries that are causing the violence. But because of the way that global supply chains are set up, it's very difficult to identify specific companies, certainly, and specific state actors. But what we can say is that the same activities that are driving climate breakdown are causing violence against some of the most vulnerable communities.

LUCY HOCKINGS - ANCHOR, BBC NEWS: Can I ask you though, Louis, specifically about Colombia, because it is the country with the highest number of deaths. What's happening there?

LOUIS WILSON: Well, Colombia [00:03:00] is a particularly complicated context. We have a peace deal that was signed in 2016 with the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and that has created a lot of tension in rural areas as there's been a change in the power dynamics there. But also we see through Covid this prioritization of economic development, resource exploitation, and a closing down of civic space.

So, things like the free press, things like civil society, were not able to function as effectively in 2020. And when that happens, you do tend to see increased violence against vulnerable communities.

LUCY HOCKINGS - ANCHOR, BBC NEWS: So changes to environmental law, legislation, obviously crucial in many countries to protect some of these people.

LOUIS WILSON: Absolutely. We need to regulate big corporations and their supply chains. That is the most crucial thing, and it's not happening fast enough or anywhere near in enough jurisdictions.

Cop City Part 1 - The Takeaway - Air Date 1-17-23

Melissa Harris-Perry: In January 2022, Lance Bottoms' successor, Andre Dickens, assumed the mantle of Atlanta Mayor. As a member of the Council, Dickens was among the 10 who voted in support of [00:04:00] Cop City. While elected officials were on board, residents across the area were registering their disapproval. The proposed site for Cop City is in unincorporated DeKalb County, located in a lower-income, predominantly Black area and not represented on Atlanta City Council.

A local firm conducted a survey of residents near the proposed site and found 98% opposed to the project. Activists have not been content to simply send an email or call a public comment line. Resistance to Cop City has been organized and enduring and part of that resistance is focused on the land itself.

Speaker: Developing now, fighting back. A battle over unused land is causing a rift between Atlanta police and activists and neither side seems to be backing down, at least anytime soon.

Speaker 2: We're coming to document what's happening in this public park. This public park is still accessible to the public. The police have warned us [00:05:00] what they would do to clean up.

Police officer: Back up, back up. Back up, back up ma'am, back up. [crosstalk]


SEAN: My name is Sean and I'm a participant in the movement to defend the Atlanta forest.


Melissa Harris-Perry: Defend the Atlanta Forest is a direct action advocacy organization, which has taken a leading role in resisting the police training facility. And throughout much of last year, they physically occupied trees in the forest on the proposed site of Cop City.

SEAN: They identified the South Forest, South River Forest, as one of the four lungs of the city, one of the four areas with the most crucial tree canopy that was going to be necessary for dealing with rainwater to prevent flooding, with filtering out pollutants, and also having a tree canopy that helps protect from the urban heat island effect. So, when a city gets hotter than the areas surrounding it, because there's all this concrete absorbing the sun and then releasing it back out, so as climate change worsens, and our days are hotter [00:06:00] and filled with more smog, we need tree canopy to protect our city from these impacts, to make it more livable on a day to day basis.

Melissa Harris-Perry: And don't just imagine resting in a peaceful tree house. Defend the Atlanta Forest's encampments have been repeatedly raided by police using some of the very tactics and tools Cop City seeks to enhance. During raids last month, more than a dozen Forest Defenders were arrested. Five were charged with domestic terrorism. And public officials in Georgia have described these activists as "a criminal network."

The ACLU of Georgia says these charges are an overreach because the crimes the Forest Defenders are accused of include throwing rocks at police, and starting dumpster fires.

SEAN: The risks are necessary because we want to have a future that we can live in. The ends justify themselves really. You know, I personally have a child on the way. [00:07:00] I want them to see this forest that is a part of our neighborhood, and where some of the best days of my life had been. And so I'm willing to take risks.

Melissa Harris-Perry: The Forest Defenders aren't the only one facing risks. Building Cop City carries risk for the residents living near South River Forest. Here again is Kamau Franklin of Community Movement Builders.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Twelve firing ranges are going to be built in this area. Explosives are going to be detonated in this area. So, the noise pollution coupled with the fact that this area is being deforested in an era of climate disaster is just unfathomable for that community to have to go through that and what should happen to that area that was promised to them as a recreational area for that community.

200 environmental activists murdered in 2021 Global Witness report - Down to Earth - Air Date 10-4-22

NARRATOR: In Cambodia, Chut Wutty, an environmental investigator and activist, was murdered while trying to halt an illegal logging operation.

[00:08:00] In April, 2021, Sandra Liliana Pena, an indigenous governor in southwest Colombia, fought for the eradication of coca crops and was killed near her home by armed men.

Varunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is facing the added threat of oil and gas extraction. One of the eight rangers of the park, Joannah Stutchbury, was shot outside her home in Kenya.

In June this year, journalist Dom Phillips, who wrote extensively for The Guardian and the Observer, and Bruno Pereira, a Brazilian expert on uncontacted tribes, were murdered in the Javari Valley in Brazil's Amazon.

According to Global Witness report titled "Decade of Defiance," 1,733 activists were killed between 2012 and 2021. 227 of them were killed in the year 2020. This is the highest number of killings in a year [00:09:00] despite the pandemic. Last year, 200 environmental defenders were murdered -- nearly four people a week. Out of the 200, 14 were Indians. This includes three tribals: Kawasi Wagha, Uika Pandu, and Korsa, who were allegedly shot dead by security forces, ironically during a protest against a security force camp in the Silger village in Chhattisgarh. Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest from Jharkhand, was among 16 renowned activists, academics and lawyers who were charged under a draconian anti-terror law in what came to be known as the Bhima Koregaon case. He was suffering from Parkinson's disease while in custody and died there.

Mexico recorded the highest number of killings, with 54 killings in 2021. Over 40% of those killed were indigenous people. Whilst Brazil and India both saw a rise in lethal attacks, both Colombia and Philippines saw a drop in killings. Yet overall, they [00:10:00] remained two of the countries with the highest number of killings in the world since 2012. Over three-quarters of the attacks recorded took place in Latin America, in Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela. 78% of attacks took place in the Amazon. Global Witness documented 10 killings in Africa.

Where a sector could be identified, just over a quarter of lethal attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation and hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure.

These defenders are putting themselves in danger by confronting a viewpoint that sees nature as something not to be cherished and protected, but to be conquered and subdued. This is a viewpoint with its roots in the western industrial revolutions of the 19th century, or even further back in the scientific theory of the Western so-called enlightenment.

It matters that this viewpoint originated in the West. As this report [00:11:00] shows, nearly all of the murdered environmental and land defenders are from the global south, and yet it is not the global south that reaps the supposed economic rewards of all this violence. This viewpoint has brought us to the brink of collapse.

With this report, Global Witness aims to urge governments to enforce laws that protect activists while also laying out blueprints for accountability in companies throughout their global operations and have zero tolerance for attacks on land defenders.

Global Witness CEO Mike Davis says, "Activists and communities play a crucial role as the first line of defense against ecological collapse, as well as being frontrunners in the campaign to prevent it."

It is high time governments step up, identify their fault lines, execute their responsibilities, and do a better job of defending the defenders for the ongoing decade.

The future of our species and our planet depends on it.[00:12:00]

SWAT Teams Attack Atlanta Forest Encampments, Activists Charged with "Terrorism" - Unicorn Riot - Air Date 12-17-22

JASMINE BURNETT: We recognize that Cop City is not being constructed so that the police can learn tactics to go after the corporations that are polluting our neighborhoods, or practicing wage theft against low wage workers, or go against the developers that are exploiting our communities and literally forcing people out of their homes due to rising grants and property taxes.

No, they're going to be learning urban warfare tactics to harass our communities, to surveil us, to prevent us from doing things like gathering here today and letting the public know what's going on. It's no coincidence that they mobilized so quickly around an issue like this because they recognize that they need to expand their power so they can hold onto it.

MARLON KAUTZ: The Atlanta Police Department is using chemical weapons against unarmed, nonviolent, [00:13:00] political protestors. This is not normal. This is not normal in Atlanta. Should not be normal anywhere.

Why is it happening? Well, we've seen over the past year or so, during the course of the movement against Cop City, the protest movement against Cop City, that the police have been engaging in a deliberate campaign to demonize this particular protest movement. They've made an effort in the press to associate this protest movement with fires. Even the governor got in on it at one point, calling the stop Cop City protest movement terrorists.

But I want to be clear. The people that the police are attacking with plastic bullets, with chemical weapons, as recently as yesterday, these people were not involved in threatening anybody. They were not involved in endangering anybody. They were sitting passively in trees trying to express a political position. So we can see that [00:14:00] the Atlanta police are engaging in a clear campaign of escalation of tactics over the past year.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: We need them and make sure that we are asking the question, why is it okay to cut down over a hundred acres of forest, and that's not considered a violent act? Why is it okay to have 90% of the jails filled up with Black people, and that's not considered a violent act? The police have continuously used violence to push through this project, and so we only focus on the destruction of property, but we don't focus on the destruction of people's lives. We are doing a favor for the police, but we are not talking about the real issues here about why we want to stop Cop City.

JASMINE BURNETT: This fight will continue and it's important for all of us to get involved, to rally around those who are arrested yesterday, to demand their release. To materially support the organizations and groups that are fighting against Cop City. And also to defend this community, because this community has [00:15:00] historically been victims of over-policing. There's a juvenile detention center down the street. There's just a huge apparatus of policing in this community that they're experiencing even more of because the police have escalated their tactics against the fight to stop Cop City.

MARLON KAUTZ: Are we gonna end up in a situation where the police are murdering protestors in order to advance, not public safety, but their particular political agenda in building Cop City?

Six Charged in Atlanta with Domestic Terrorism for Protesting Cop City Training Facility - Democracy Now! - Air Date 12-21-22


This is Jasmine Burnett of the group Community Movement Builders.

JASMINE BURNETT: People are asking for affordable housing, paving the streets — right? — having sidewalks, better access to MARTA. And instead, they are supporting a project, a $90 million project, to construct the largest urban warfare training facility in this country.

And while we understand that this is a very local issue — right? — it’s happening right here — we also know that this is a national problem, this is a global problem. The same tactics that they’re using against Forest Defenders are the same [00:16:00] tactics that the Israeli government is using against Palestinians — right? — the same tactics that the U.S. military is employing in Africa through the AFRICOM program. Right? This is a global struggle against the occupation of our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Atlanta, Georgia, where we’re joined by Kamau Franklin, the founder of Community Movement Builders, part of the coalition trying to stop the construction of Cop City in Atlanta.

Kamau, welcome to Democracy Now! We knew you in New York when you were part of the Center for Constitutional Rights. You’ve moved to Atlanta. Talk about the significance of what’s happening now and five activists being charged with — domestic terrorism?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yes. Thank you for having me.

And as an update, it is now six activists. A day after the initial raid, another raid was done, and another activist was arrested and is now being charged.

So, we think these charges are setting up, really, the idea of criminalizing dissent around Cop City. So far, these activists have been [00:17:00] denied bail. There’s a second bail hearing that is coming up. But because of the outrageous charges, the very generalized charge of domestic terrorism under Georgia law, that these folks are still being held.

And this has been a concerted effort by law enforcement agencies from the city, the Atlanta Police Department; the county, DeKalb Police Department; the state, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; at the federal level, the Homeland Security and FBI — have all been involved in a task force which is targeting these organizers and activists on the ground for being opposed to Cop City.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what are the specific actions that they allegedly have taken to warrant these kinds of charges?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, the interesting thing about these arrests is that these arrests were basically a push in the forest to destroy everything that was built in terms of a resistance movement, a group of folks that we call the Forest Defenders, in terms of the loose [00:18:00] coalition of people who have actually moved in the forest or who spend days in the forest camping out as an act of civil disobedience. Remember, Georgia is the place where John Lewis and “good trouble” is supposed to be accepted. But civil disobedience in the forest is something that is not accepted when the police want to build a highly militarized training ground.

And so, while these folks were just in part of their encampment, they were raided by the police, again, by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Folks were sitting, literally sitting in tree huts, where they were — all of their camp equipment was destroyed. Rubber bullets were used. Guns were pointing at their head. They were involved at that particular time in no activity whatsoever, except for the act of being in the forest. And they all were taken in and then charged in this sort of RICO or conspiracy idea that the act of protest, the act of civil disobedience, direct action, is something that’s now being criminalized, in a statute [00:19:00] that really doesn’t get used in Georgia, but it’s been on the books for a number of years. And so, these folks were doing absolutely nothing but being in the forest as Forest Defenders at the time of their arrest.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you tell us a little bit more about Cop City? I mean, how did this idea originate? Who backed it? What politicians were behind it?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Cop City is something that came out after the George Floyd uprisings of 2020, after George Floyd was killed, Breonna Taylor was killed. Here in Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks was killed by the police. And there were massive protests, as we know, around the country, even around the world, around police violence, police brutality. There were calls for defunding the police. There were calls to abolish the police. There were calls to find new ways to bring safety to various communities, particularly Black and Brown working-class communities.

And it was during that time that Keisha Lance Bottoms, then the former mayor of Atlanta, and the City Council, along with the Atlanta Police Foundation, the Atlanta Police Department, the police [00:20:00] union, came up with the idea to give basically a gift to the police to make them feel better, as a way of changing the narrative. And as we’ve seen over the last few years since the George Floyd uprisings, both Democrats and Republicans, elected officials, private companies — the same private companies that claimed that they were supporting Black Lives Matter — have put literally tens of millions of dollars into funding this police apparatus, this Cop City.

And so, during that time period of shortly after the uprisings, the idea was came up with that we should — “we” being Atlanta — should give this gift to the police of this training center, which, again, is basically — as Jasmine stated in your clip, is an urban warfare center, where there are going to be over a dozen shooting ranges. There’s going to be an explosive range. There are going to be mock cities to practice urban warfare. There’s going to be a helicopter pad for Black Hawk helicopters to land.

So, this is being done right in the middle of a working-class and poor Black city — I mean, Black [00:21:00] area, in Atlanta, one of the last left intact. And so, this is all planned around changing the narrative, talking about crime and how this facility is going to be used to fight crime, which is, you know, a lie on its face, because this facility, even without protests, would take four to five years to build. So this is basically a boondoggle that’s been given to the police to make them feel better, to change the narrative from abolishing or defunding the police to one in which now the police are needed to solve acts of crime.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about, Kamau Franklin, the alternatives to militarize police that your group and the whole coalition is calling for? And what’s going to happen to these six activists charged with domestic terrorism? We just have a minute.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah. I mean, our groups have called for alternatives to policing in terms of having outside agencies that are called if there’s mental health issues, if there’s homeless issues. On a more radical end, we’ve actually called for our communities having the ability to [00:22:00] control any policing that happens, which means the ability to hire or fire policing, to discipline police in our communities. We’ve called for community copwatches, where we watch the police, safety walks, where we create other avenues of safety which are not around the police.

So, we are continuing to supporting the organizers and activists who were arrested. We are gathering bail funds as we speak. We’re getting lawyers for these folks. Again, another bail hearing is scheduled for the 27th. So, right now we need as much solidarity and support as possible to support these folks and to continue to fight against Cop City being built.

Environmentalists in danger Part 1 - DW Documentary - Air Date 10-29-22

NARRATOR: Before we head back south to Ogoniland, Dr. Blessed wants us to see ExxonMobil's gas flaring—the practice of intentional burning of natural gas during the oil extraction process.

DR. NGONSO BLESSED: Even with this flaring, there's no compensation. It affects the water, it affect the soil, destroy the soil, it affect the flora and the fauna it [00:23:00] affect the vegetation, it affect the farmland, and the heat, again, is unbearable to the human life.

NARRATOR: Gas flaring is a significant contributor to climate change despite being made illegal in the Niger Delta in 2005, companies continue to do it.

DR. NGONSO BLESSED: As an activist, you mobilize the local people for demonstration. They fish you out. They can block your account. They can pay illegal money to your accounts, to say that you are doing an online fraud. You are into financial scam. You'll be arrested.

NARRATOR: Security guards suddenly appear, even though we're not on ExxonMobil premises. We leave.

A number of oil companies have promised to end gas flaring by 2030 and instead using the associated gas as an energy resource, but for now, the [00:24:00] toxic practice continues unabated. Back in Ogoniland, for environmental activists Celestine Akpobari, there is only one way the oil contaminated Nigel Delta can be made livable again.

CELESTINE AKPOBARI: We must continue this struggle because if we don't do it, there will be no future for Ogoni coming after us, and that's why no matter how dangerous it is, we continue the struggle to fight. Just like the children you saw in the creek. They have to swim, they have to drink polluted water. They see crude oil on it, but they have told you there is no alternative.

NARRATOR: The Shell oil spill devastated Ogoniland, but the people who live here are not ready to give up hope. With their tireless campaigning, environmentalists and human rights activists are risking their lives, not only here, but around the world. According to a report by the organization [00:25:00] Global Witness, 227 environmental activists worldwide were killed in 2020. More than ever before. They're particularly at risk in countries that have plentiful resources, such as timber, oil, and gold deposits, or where drug cultivation and the illegal palm oil industry are flourishing. The actual figure could be even higher.

The headquarters of the Environmental Investigation Agency, EIA, are in Washington, DC. The agency investigates environmental crimes, gathering information undercover in highly dangerous places.

SUSANNE BREIRKOPF - EIA: The threats are growing, and to some extent becoming increasingly violent. In some cases, indigenous people who defend themselves against illegal loggers and gold prospectors have been tortured and [00:26:00] massacred. We also work with people who get threatening phone calls. Their families are threatened. They're sent messages on WhatsApp that say, "I know where your child goes to school."

Atlanta's Cop City Moves Ahead After Police Kill 1 Protester & Charge 19 with Domestic Terrorism - Democracy Now! - Air Date 2-2-23

AMY GOODMAN: This is Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaking Tuesday.

MAYOR ANDRE DICKENS: Today, I am pleased to report that we have reached an agreement with DeKalb County to issue the construction permits and begin to move the project forward. My administration is aggressively committed to environmental protection. We have been uniquely focused on expanding our protected green spaces in the city. In my first year of office alone, the City of Atlanta and our partners acquired an additional 260 acres throughout the city to be used for parks and green space.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, outside City Hall, protesters chanted, “Cop City will never be built.” This is community organizer Micah Herskind.

MICAH HERSKIND: How dare they stand in [00:27:00] front of people and say, “Oh, this plan, where we’re tearing down trees, is actually good for people, and it’s good for the economy, and it’s — you know, it’s actually going to protect people”? It’s obviously false, and I hope that it’s reported as such, because it’s such classic, blatant spin, that they’re taking us for fools if they think anyone would believe that tearing down trees and putting cement over it is protecting the environment. That’s outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this week, a coalition of more than 1,300 climate and racial justice groups called for the resignation of Atlanta’s Democratic mayor, saying he’s failed to denounce the police for shooting dead the activist known as Tortuguita, and instead criticized the protesters. This is Mayor Dickens speaking over the weekend about the protesters.

MAYOR ANDRE DICKENS: And it should be noted that these individuals were not Atlanta or Georgia residents. Most of them traveled into our city to wreak havoc.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to look more at the City of Atlanta’s crackdown on Cop City and what the protesters have [00:28:00] been charged with, domestic terrorism, we’re joined by Alleen Brown, whose new investigation for Grist is headlined “Documents show how 19 'Cop City' activists got charged with terrorism: Georgia police are invoking a 2017 terrorism law against activists accused of little more than trespassing.”

Alleen, welcome back to Democracy Now! You report nine of the Forest Defenders facing domestic terrorism charges are accused simply of trespassing in the woods by camping and living in a tree house. One person was deemed part of Defend the Atlanta Forest for, “occupying a tree house while wearing a gas mask and camouflage clothing.” Can you just please explain?

ALLEEN BROWN: Yeah. So, thank you so much for having me.

I reviewed 20 arrest warrants for 19 people charged with domestic terrorism in Atlanta and found that none of those individuals are alleged to have committed any act that seriously injured anyone. [00:29:00] Like you mentioned, nine of the warrants describe no specific illegal acts beyond misdemeanor trespassing — essentially, camping in a forest. Instead, for those charged in the forest, their domestic terrorism allegations seem to rest on the idea that the Department of Homeland Security designated people associated with the slogan “Defend the Atlanta Forest” to be domestic violent extremists. You know, I asked DHS about this, and they told me that they don’t classify any groups that way, although they do communicate with local and state officials about threats.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you explain, Alleen, the origins of Georgia’s terror law and how it is that these people were charged?

ALLEEN BROWN: Yeah. So, Georgia’s domestic terrorism law passed in [00:30:00] 2017, and it was really drafted as a means to confront these mass shootings that we see month in and month out. Specifically, lawmakers named the 2015 massacre of nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, who were shot and killed by white supremacist Dylann Roof. So, you know, essentially, this law was created to address violence by White supremacists.

You know, at the time, civil liberties groups really put out that this was going to be used instead against people expressing their First Amendment rights and marginalized communities. So, it appears a version of that is what has come to pass. And this really serves as a warning signal to people on both sides of the party, lawmakers that have continued to [00:31:00] suggest new domestic terrorism legislation is necessary to confront mass shootings.

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Wood Jr. of The Daily Show on Comedy Central recently went to the Atlanta forest to cover the movement to stop Cop City. We want to go to a clip.

ROY WOOD JR.: Wait, bingo. Y’all got bingo night?


ROY WOOD JR.: Where is the Molotov cocktail station? Where’s the gun training station?

FOREST DEFENDER 2: The majority of us just want to live in peace with each other.

FOREST DEFENDER 1: We work here on ourselves, and we do yoga, and we meditate, get massages here.

ROY WOOD JR.: Y’all get massages? You do yoga, meditate, stretch and deal with your inner sh... — like therapy.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s Roy Wood Jr. of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. If only what was happening there was so funny. Alleen Brown, if you could take it from there? And also, if they face domestic terrorism charges, how many years in prison do they face? And does this make it easier, if the protesters are considered [00:32:00] domestic terrorists, for SWAT teams to move in and, well, in the case of Tortuguita, to kill them?

ALLEEN BROWN: So, these charges carry mandatory minimums of five to 35 years, so they’re very serious charges. And, you know, they really — a lot of people are — attorneys are saying that they’re legally quite flimsy. You know, the law says that you have to commit a felony in order to be charged with domestic terrorism in Georgia. As we’ve talked about, a lot of these people are charged with misdemeanor trespassing.

But, you know, the idea is that this may not be meant — these charges may not be meant to stick. Perhaps instead it’s meant to send a message that this is a criminal group, these are [00:33:00] terrorists, and, you know, maybe someone with more moderate views doesn’t want to be affiliated with such a group. So, in that sense, it creates a sort of public relations message that perhaps does make it easier to go in and evict people and escalate to something like what we saw on January 18th with Tortuguita.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have a minute, Alleen, but if you can respond to the mayor’s latest announcement they’re moving forward with Cop City, and the feeling in Atlanta around what this is, and if you could explain what it is?

ALLEEN BROWN: Yeah, sure. I mean, you know, what I found is that this is really a wide-ranging movement. There are, of course, Forest Defenders occupying this forest, defending the trees. There are also parks advocates, people concerned about police brutality, gentrification, neighborhood associations that have stood out against this project. So, I [00:34:00] think Atlanta officials, as long as they continue to push this, are going to continue to face a really kind of strong, wide-ranging movement.

Environmentalists in danger Part 2 - DW Documentary - Air Date 10-29-22

NARRATOR: The murder rate is especially high in the country's bordering the Amazon rainforest. Here, in Peru's Pucallpa region, illegal deforestation is a major problem. Home to a population of 2 million, pucallpa, on the edge of the rainforest, is a hub of the illegal trade in tropical timber. Logs brought here are shipped first to Lima, and from there to the rest of the world.

Lucila Pautrat is fighting to put an end to environmental. She works for an organization called Kené, advocating for the rainforests and the indigenous people who live in them. The Forest Sciences Engineer gives them a voice in court and isn't afraid to sue big companies. Her work [00:35:00] has made her many enemies. She's entitled to round the clock police protection, but tends to go without, preferring to keep a low profile when she travels.

Tomorrow, she's set to take a flight over an area that's recently been illegally cleared. The goal is to gather evidence that can be used in court. But first Lucila Pautrat wants to gather more information. The indigenous residents of the Village of Santa Clara de Uchunya are concerned about their rights. A crisis meeting has been called. The Village used to be surrounded by rainforest, but then a company began felling trees and planting oil palms in their place. The villages took legal action. Since then, they've been the target of threats, says Ivan Flores.

IVAN FLORES: People are coming here trying to kill us. We have to go into the forest to hide. They come to kill us, to destroy us. Not only me, but also my family. People have [00:36:00] already been killed in villages that border our territory, including a village leader. Our lives are at risk. People have been contracted to kill us.

NARRATOR: The crisis team is alarmed. At least 11 people have been killed here in recent years. The killers and the people they take their orders from have never been caught. Locals have no protection and fear for their lives.

IVAN FLORES: We want our lives back, our environment, our nature, our rivers, our pristine streams, our flora and fauna, our animals.

NARRATOR: Kené has taken their case to court. We head to the rainforest with Lucila Pautrat, who wants to see for herself what's happening in the village. For security reasons, the pilots are not told the route until takeoff. [00:37:00] There could be informants everywhere. It's immediately apparent that the rainforest is disappearing. Below us are vast expanses of recently cleared areas.

LUCILA PAUTRAT - KENÉ: Wide scale deforestation means indigenous people no longer have wildlife to hunt. This undermines food security among the population. Fishing is also in decline because heavy machinery is polluting the rivers.

NARRATOR: Santa Clara de Uchunya is located on a river. This is where Ivan Flores comes from, and it's where seven people were murdered.

LUCILA PAUTRAT - KENÉ: We're just arriving in Santa Clara.

NARRATOR: Where the murders took place?

LUCILA PAUTRAT - KENÉ: Yes. And where indigenous leaders are being threatened. As we can see, the entire area is surrounded by palm oil plantations.[00:38:00]

NARRATOR: This used to be dense rainforest. Now, all that's here is an oil palm monoculture. The harvests are processed in this factory. Paultrat takes photos that can later service evidence in court.

Oil palms as far as the eye can see. The plantations are expanding year by year.

LUCILA PAUTRAT - KENÉ: All this used to be pristine forest. The palm oil plantations are illegal. We're losing a huge diversity of primary tropical forests for a business that is simply not sustainable. It also violates the rights, not only of indigenous communities, but of all Peruvians, and all of humanity [00:39:00] because it affects the whole planet.

Cop City Forest Defender Killed by Police in Forest Raid - The Takeaway - Air Date 1-25-23

Melissa Harris-Perry: Well, I want to ask you the same thing about what you know about what happened, and how you're feeling right now.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: I'll start with the latter question. I think not just me but many folks who I've talked to feel horrified at what took place, the killing of this young organizer activist, the fact that the city, the county, and the state, and now the federal government has pursued this policy of criminalizing protesters, overcharging protesters, and creating a narrative that suggests the protesters are dangerous. In response, actually to the fact that it is the police who have been a danger to the larger community, which is why we knew right away that we would want to protest Cop City.

The little information, as Sean mentioned, [00:40:00] that we know from the incident is all directed by the narrative that the police have given to us, we should point out that although the idea that this task force included the Atlanta City Police, DeKalb County Police, a SWAT team, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, State Troopers, and from some news reports, even the FBI, there is not one agency that had body cam footage of what took place. The City of Atlanta Police are required to have body cam on when they're interacting with the public, but yet we have no body cam image whatsoever.

The only narrative we have is the police narrative, and the only thing we really do know is what the police have said. This is all we know, is we don't know at what angle Tortuguita was shot, how many times they were shot. None of this information has been made public, and that's why we are demanding an independent investigation other than [00:41:00] what the police are saying.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Sean, did you know Manuel?

SEAN: I knew Tortuguita in passing and by legend, almost, as someone who had very bravely broadcast themselves in a tree sit while they were being fired at with rubber bullets and pepper balls from below, and stayed in the tree and not come down despite this onslaught of police violence against them.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Sean, were you in the forest when it was raided on that day, or have you been there when it's been raided on any of the days?

SEAN: Yes. The Atlanta Forest, the Weelaunee Forest, in question, it's hundreds of acres of woods with roads bounding it on all sides, and creek that runs through it. It's fairly wide creek. On a normal day, you can find a few dozen people on the ground throughout the forest in various tree sits or camps. [00:42:00] Usually when there's a big raid happening of police, there's early indications of a helicopter flying over, these kinds of things, and then people prepare as best they can by either making sure they're up in tree sits or evacuating the area.

When a raid is happening, there's hundreds of acres and there's police combed out fanning through all of it. A lot of times they're just destroying all material and infrastructure they can find, wrecking people's tents, slashing tarps, destroying water, destroying cooking equipment, destroying food, just having these very aggressive reactions to just basic encampments.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about the response of the city to this killing.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: The city, and I think at best [00:43:00] you could say one police car was burning, not the city of Atlanta, but I think the response of the city has been their response since the very beginning of protest. What seems to be under reported is that even at the beginning of the protest against Cop City, when people were doing demonstrations and marches on city sidewalks, we would have, at the end of those demonstrations, police jumping in the middle of them and arresting people for just standing or talking after demonstrations and they've come in during demonstrations.

They've used pepper spray, they've violently thrown people to the ground, folks have been arrested. This is pre the charges of domestic terrorism, but still charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrests, threats after the arrest of loss of paperwork and people didn't cooperate. The tactics of the police have been [00:44:00] violent towards the protesters since the very beginning, but unfortunately this has gone under-reported or not reported as violence and scare tactics used against protesters.

And so, as the Cop City idea passed and the brave Forest Defenders, the people who decided to do acts of civil disobedience and direct action by taking up space in a forest, the police, and again the various agencies, have only stepped up their tactics to the point where, as was stated, they're using not only rubber bullets and pepper balls, but now live ammunition. They're using the tactics of overcharging, in fact arresting at all and putting out scary press releases to the media about terrorists, which again, as Sean stated, is only meant to criminalize the movement, to scare [00:45:00] people off, and to make it so that they can build this monstrosity that no one in the City of Atlanta asked for without there being legitimate protest against it.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Kamau there's a fairly strong counter narrative that these protesters are actually not residents of Atlanta or of surrounding communities, that they are out-of-state agitators. How would you respond to that?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, I think it's very interesting that the language of calling people outside troublemakers is continually used, and as outsiders. These are the same officials who last week were honoring Dr. King, who continually honor the civil rights movement, who honor freedom writers, people who traveled all across the country to protest against acts [00:46:00] of civil rights violations, illegal laws or laws that were immoral, and ordinances that were immoral, from the deep south up to the north. These types of interventions were happening in the '50s and '60, and now these people are celebrated, although these people are invoking the same language as southern segregationists to deride actions of civil disobedience and protest against what people find to be immoral laws against city, state, county, and sometimes federal governments. I think it's a complete misnomer for anyone to take that language seriously.

The movement against Cop City is diverse. It is people local to Atlanta and the surrounding areas. It is people who come outside to express their First Amendment rights to protest in Atlanta as they should do. We think [00:47:00] that language is really just a way to, again, use language which is meant to criminalize or make people feel like they're outsiders, or to make people seem like they're outsiders, and is the very language taken from southern segregationists when they wanted to speak negative around civil rights actions in the '50s and '60s.

Former Energy Executive Charged In Connection To Environmental Activist's Murder - NBC news - Air Date 6-22-22

NBC REPORTER: Tonight, former energy executive Roberto David Castillo, has been sentenced for ordering the killing of environmental activist Berta Cáceres in 2016. Her murder sparked an outcry across Honduras demanding accountability.

ROXANNA ALTHOLZ: They thought they killed Berta, but what they really did was inspire thousands and thousands of more Bertas.

NBC REPORTER: Roxanna Altholz is a law professor at UC Berkeley, but was was also hired by Cáceres's family to independently investigate the murder, due to a lack of confidence in the country to investigate.

ROXANNA ALTHOLZ: We exposed information that demonstrated that [00:48:00] her murder had been orchestrated, planned by executives and investors in an energy company in Honduras.

NBC REPORTER: Castillo is the eighth person to be charged and convicted in connection to the murder of the environmental activist.

ROXANNA ALTHOLZ: The company executives that orchestrated Berta's murder really underestimated her strong, strong relationships Honduras and really, really globally.

NBC REPORTER: Cáceres was an outspoken member of the Lenca indigenous group, whose work gained her global recognition.

But at home, her reputation as a staunch defender of women's rights helped her to build a following, but also made her a target. At the time of her murder, she was protesting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam intended to be built on the Galcarque River, considered sacred indigenous land.

ROXANNA ALTHOLZ: In Honduras, the pattern that had emerged was that often mega big projects were planned for [00:49:00] indigenous communities in the name of progress that led to the erosion of the rights of those communities and its members.

NBC REPORTER: Castillo was a former Honduran army intelligence officer, and at the time, the head of Desa, the company behind the construction of the dam. Last year, he was charged with orchestrating Cáceres's murder and yesterday sentenced to 22 years and six months, a lighter sentence compared to the seven co-collaborators who are now serving between 30 to 50 years.

Berta's youngest daughter, Olivia, responding in a tweet, calling his sentence "outrageous" and saying, "David Castillo, co-author of my mother's murder, has not received the maximum sentence."

ROXANNA ALTHOLZ: Her killing was not the result of the actions of a few bad people, but it was really the result of a bad system -- a system that profits from environmental destruction and the denial of rights to communities that have been marginalized and [00:50:00] disenfranchised for decades by traditional political systems.

Cop City Part 2 - The Takeaway - Air Date 1-17-23

Melissa Harris-Perry: We're continuing our coverage out of Atlanta, Georgia, where there's organized community resistance to a $90 million police training center known as Cop City.

Opposition to Cop City is not only about addressing police capacity for violence and harm. It's also about environmental concerns and uneasiness connected to the history of the land itself. The proposed site of the new police training facility was the former Atlanta Prison Farm.

AUDREY: The Atlanta City Prison Farm was first stolen Indigenous land. Then it was a plantation owned by the Key family. My name is Audrey and I am a member of the Atlanta Community Press Collective. The city purchased it in 1911 and even in that we've had the actual, like, I guess you'd call it a bill of sale, the property [00:51:00] deed, it's referred to as the W.B. Key Plantation. There's a wastewater treatment plant and formerly a trash disposal area. By the 1930s, the City Prison Farm, as it was known for much of the 20th Century, was up and running.


Melissa Harris-Perry: The old Atlanta Prison Farm is an abandoned prison complex that operated from about 1920 to 1990. But much of the reality of conditions at the prison remain shrouded and poorly understood. In 2021, the Atlanta Community Press Collective released a report on the history of the old Atlanta Prison Farm and it challenged public discourse that described the site as a federal honor farm.

AUDREY: "Honor farm" is basically a term for this type of prison farm where prisoners were given a little [00:52:00] more leeway and freedom and it was a happy and wonderful place. Because the prisoners got to go outside. It's great. This unfortunately incorrect yet popularly retold history of the City Honor Farm was perpetuated through these initial discussions about Cop City.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Audrey told us about some of the sources of this misinformation.

AUDREY: It seems that there was some discussion among city leaders as to what to do with the prison farm. A report was published by, it appears, a grad student working at the Bureau of City Planning as it was known at the time, that kind of both charted current discussions of what to do with the land, but also attempted to tell the history of what to do with the land. Unfortunately, and I believe the author was probably doing the best she could given the lack of original records that we found, in modern day, the author managed to conflate the existence of the Atlanta City Prison Farm, which we can prove [00:53:00] the city bought this land in 1911 and was operating the prison farm by the '30s.

Unfortunately, even to this day, if you Google the Atlanta City Prison Farm, or the old Atlanta Prison Farm, this piece is one of the first Google results you'll find. So much so to the point that when the initial discussions were held on the proposed Cop City, if you will, even the Atalanta Police Foundation, who was supposed to have done their research, and the Atlanta City Council and the Atlanta Police Department in DeKalb County, everyone was referring to this land as the Honor Farm, which is the exact phrase that the person that wrote this report for the Bureau of City Planning used.


Melissa Harris-Perry: The distinction matters, because as Audrey told us, the conditions of the old Atlanta Prison Farm are troubling.

AUDREY: In the '40s, they began the use of solitary [00:54:00] confinement at the City Prison Farm to replace physical punishment, particularly tying people to a chair and whipping them. In the '60s, solitary confinement comes up again, and it is again promised that they will start using solitary confinement instead of physically punishing prisoners for "misbehavior". Same claim that was made about 15 years earlier. They also promised to improve conditions in solitary confinement, meaning bunks, windows, and time outside of a four-by-four room with no windows. In the '70s, same-story. Newspaper articles report, at this time, the third warden in a row of the prison who was heralded as a great reformer, "We're going to improve the conditions, we're going to give the prisoners beds, and we're going to get the guards to stop hitting prisoners." Finally, in [00:55:00] 1982, the city is actually sued by the ACLU on behalf of four prisoners due to these conditions in solitary confinement.


Melissa Harris-Perry: And solitary confinement is not the only form of abuse the prisoners faced at the facility.

AUDREY: There is a number of reports in a Black newspaper called The Atlanta Daily World that is very explicit, has several very explicit stories of prisoners just being found dead by guards after shouting matches or people's families getting called up and being like, "Hey, your son, your husband, your daughter, your wife died at the prison farm. Gosh, we sure don't know what happened." Pretty obvious that when you combine this with the reports of, "Oh, we're going to get the guards to stop beating and abusing the prisoners" over the decades, it's pretty obvious what happened there.

Melissa Harris-Perry: There are lessons [00:56:00] as well, in those who are most frequently targets of this abuse.

AUDREY: While the prison farm abused everyone, it is also very clear that Black people, particularly Black women, suffered the worst abuse of all. We found reports of anything from White women being given inside work, like clothes mending, while Black women were forced to go outside and work in extreme heat or extreme cold or during rainstorms, so on and so forth. Some of the worst accounts we found are Black women being instructed by White guards to go work in a remote area. And they were then raped by the prison guards after being told to go work in those remote areas.

Melissa Harris-Perry: The community's concerns about the environmental effects and the complicated history of the land has been sustained, [00:57:00] but ultimately it has not been decisive in the choice to move forward with Cop City.

Aubrey: For example, even though they are a neighboring local government building on this land, the people that actually live in this jurisdiction of DeKalb County at no point in time were able to vote on the issue.

Melissa Harris-Perry: On September 7th, 2021, the Atlanta City Council hosted 14 hours of public comment about the plan. It's commonly known as Cop City.

Public Commenter 1: I feel strongly that this is coming out of the blue, there's a little bit of a siege mentality in taking over the green space and putting a particular type of facility in this particular neighborhood.

Public Commenter 2: I'm calling the Atlanta City Council to ask you to please vote no on the Cop City on Key Roads, we do not need to tear any [00:58:00] forest into Cop City.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Analysis of the thousands of comments that flooded the city's call line show that about 70% of those calling in were opposed to Cop City, but when the council voted that evening, the measure passed 10 to 4.

Activists at COP26 Honor 1,000+ Environmental Defenders Killed Since Paris Accord 1 in 3 Indigenous - Democracy Now! - Air Date 11-8-21

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Glasgow, where activists held a memorial for those who were unable to attend the U.N. climate summit this year—the 1,005 land and environmental defenders who have been murdered since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. One in three of those killed was an Indigenous person. At the Fridays for Future mass rally in Glasgow, climate activists from Colombia talked about the murders of land defenders in their country.

CLIMATE ACTIVIST 1: We are climate activists from Colombia. And today we want to honor the social environmental defenders that have been killed in the last two years of no COP. [00:59:00] Colombia is the most dangerous country to be an environmental defender in the whole world, and no one cares.

CLIMATE ACTIVIST 2: In our country, we say those who die defending life cannot be considered dead. We would like to invite you to join us in saying some of their names. We cannot say all of their names, because it would become night if we said all of their names. We will each name one environmental defender that was assassinated in our country and their story. After, we will say justice for this leader, and we would like you to answer back in unison, “Justice,” while raising your fist. Let us try it now.

Maritza Isabel Quiroz was a land defender and peasant leader. She was assassinated in Santa Marta in 2019. Justice for Maritza.

CROWD: Justice!

CLIMATE ACTIVIST 3: Juana Perea, she was an environmental leader and women’s [01:00:00] organizer opposed to the Port of Tribugá, and she was assassinated in Nuquí in 2020. Justice for Juana.

CROWD: Justice!

CLIMATE ACTIVIST 4: Magdalena Cucubana, she was an Indigenous peoples defender from the Makaguán community, and she was assassinated in Arauca in 2019. Justice for Magdalena.

CROWD: Justice!

CLIMATE ACTIVIST 1: Yamid Alonso Silva Torres, he was defender of the Cocuy National Park, and he was assassinated in Boyacá last year. Justice for Yamid.

CROWD: Justice!

CLIMATE ACTIVIST 3: And many more, but time wouldn’t be enough to name all of them. That’s why we need the Escazú Agreement to be ratified, because it’s the link between climate justice and human rights, and it’s the only mechanism to protect them, because we won’t achieve any solution here at COP26 if we don’t defend the defenders.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as 2020 was the [01:01:00] deadliest year on record for environmental defenders.

For more, we go inside the COP, inside COP26, the Conference of Parties, that U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. We’re joined by two guests. Louis Wilson is a senior adviser at Global Witness who helped write their report, Last Line of Defence: The industries causing the climate crisis and attacks against land and environmental defenders. Also with us, Andrea Ixchíu. She’s a Maya K’iche’ leader, journalist and human rights defender based in Guatemala. She’s in Glasgow for the COP26 with the collective Futuros Indígenas. That’s Indigenous Futures.

We welcome you back, Andrea, to Democracy Now! and want to begin with you. Talk about those who couldn’t make it, not because of COVID, not because of the pandemic, but because they were murdered. Over a thousand land defenders, [01:02:00] water protectors, environmentalists, since the climate accord was signed in Paris in 2015.

ANDREA IXCHIU: Thank you, Amy. I would like to start honoring the existence, the lives of these people that are taking care of forests, land, water, air, that are facing the effects of the climate crisis but also facing the violence that in countries like Guatemala is imposed by the Guatemalan government, by the extractive industries, that are not just causing the climate crisis but also perpetrating colonialist behavior in our territories and in our lands.

I am here also to say that there has been a lot of Indigenous people that has been put into prison, that is not allowed to be in their communities defending their land and their territory because of the militarization. As we speak, in the Maya Q’eqchi’ region of Guatemala, the community of El Estor is under a state of siege. We are [01:03:00] worried about the life of Cristóbal Pop and a lot of other Indigenous leaders that are right now living in open resistance against the big extractive nickel mine that is being imposed in their communities, and Guatemalan government is protecting the interest of the Solway company in Guatemala to extract the nickel. And at this moment, the military people is going to the people’s houses. It’s on the street, militarizing their territories and their lands.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s stay in this community that you’ve just addressed, El Estor in Guatemala. The president of Guatemala, Giammattei, imposing a curfew that would prevent the kind of public gatherings, the protests that are taking place there. Can you talk about the fact that Giammattei actually came to the COP, and what message you have for him? But also, if you could [01:04:00] talk further about how that’s enabled by countries like the United States.

ANDREA IXCHIU: It’s really sad to say that the government, the president of your country is more worried about protecting foreign investments than the wellness, than the good living, than the dignified life for Indigenous communities and the people in Guatemala. So, what we have discovered also, that is related with this company and President Giammattei, is that he is receiving money from these companies, that there are corrupt acts that have been shown, and that’s also related with the long period of corruption scandals that had put different presidents of Guatemala under the protest of a lot of thousands of people. So, there is a necessity to call to President Giammattei to assume his responsibility with his own people, not with foreign investors. We are calling [01:05:00] also him for his resignation, because he looks more like the CEO for this transnational company than actually the president of Guatemala.

We are demanding freedom [for] the journalists, communitarian journalists, that are part of independent media in Guatemala that have been put into threats because they were documenting the militarization and the violence. And also that it’s really important to say around all these mega projects, it’s that they are trying to say that they bring develop to communities, and that they’re trying to say that they are bringing good lifestyles to communities, but what we have been seeing and documenting in what it has been happening in El Estor since 1960s is pollution, is destruction of social fabric, of biodiversity, and also a lot of violence against the Maya Q’eqchi’ people in El Estor, Izabal.

Final comments and conversation with Ben about his fallen friend

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with the BBC News reporting on the record number of murdered environmental activists in 2020. The Takeaway explained the activism around the COP City [01:06:00] project in Atlanta. Down to Earth highlighted specific stories of defenders being murdered due to their activism. Unicorn Riot filmed a press conference put on by the Atlanta Forest protectors after the initial raid and terrorism charges back in December. Democracy Now! discussed the domestic terrorism charges against protestors in Atlanta and the origin of the Cop City Project. A DW documentary highlighted protest against gas flaring and oil spills. Democracy Now! dove deeper into the talking points around outside agitators and the purpose of the unfounded domestic terrorism charges. The DW documentary continued with a focus on the murder rate surrounding the Amazon Rainforest. The Takeaway discussed the violence of the police and the criminalization of protestors. And NBC News reported on the conviction of an energy company executive for the murder of an environmental protector in Honduras.

That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from The Takeaway, [01:07:00] giving an in-depth history of the site of the Cop City project. And Democracy Now! highlighted the event to honor murdered Environmental defenders at the Climate Conference of Parties in 2021.

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.

And today I have something a little different to leave you with because our very own volunteer Ben, who helps with our transcriptions, was a friend, a fellow activist, a co-conspirator, a comrade of the forest defender who was killed during the police raid on the encampment in the Atlanta Forest. So I asked him if he wanted to come on the show to talk about his fallen friend, the movement, and how you all can get involved.

Interview with Ben

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: So the famous Transcriptionist [01:08:00] Ben, the Monosyllabic, Ben, because of your name, not because you speak in mono syllables. Thanks for joining us. This is a unique conversation.

BEN GRANT: Happy to be here. Though these circumstances are definitely not ideal to make the show for the first time.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Of course. So you were the first person to introduce this story to us. The Cop City story had not crossed my radar until the tragic death of the Forest protector, who turns out was your friend. Tell us how you knew them.

BEN GRANT: So, manny was a local organizer in Tallahassee with us. Not working solely with any of the orgs that I worked with, but sort of all over the place. They did not have any one org or group that they were committed to, but rather the purpose of feeding people and taking care of people [01:09:00] who were down on their luck, and that was sort of their north star.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: So feeding people like that was their role in, in the group?

BEN GRANT: Well, the main organization in Tallahassee that they worked with was Food Not Bombs. That was the one they were probably most committed to. And they spent a lot of time cooking on their own to provide food for Food Not Bombs. Always feeding homeless people. They were homeless at times, themselves in Tallahassee, and so I don't know if it was because of that specifically that they felt this kinship and this need to take care of people in that situation, but it was something they at least had commiseration with. And so taking care of the houseless population in Tallahassee was one of the main things they were focused on.

And something else that Manny did in Tallahassee was start their own mutual aid network, the Bond County Mutual Aid Network, which came about after realizing that some of the other mutual [01:10:00] aid in Tallahassee was not meeting all of the needs. And so, as I said before, being homeless themselves, they had a better understanding of what resources people in that situation could need.

And so after the city tried to close down one of the only overnight shelters that Tallahassee has, especially during the winter, they opened overnight cold shelters for people, multiple, to make sure that the homeless population in Tallahassee would have somewhere to escape the elements, especially during the cold snaps that we have throughout the winter, because the city has no interest in keeping that population of the city safe.

So it wasn't just that Manny participated in a lot of those things. Manny built them from the ground up in places where they saw that they were lacking. So Manny really lived [01:11:00] the life of a revolutionary organizer.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: It's amazing. The stories you hear about people, sadly, so often after the fact, but I mean, people are amazing . One thing I particularly wanted to get your insight on was there, there's a quote from a Guardian piece, amazingly the journalist writing the article, I think had interviewed Manny in the past and so had a quote that they could pull forward for this story after their death. And the quote from Manny was, "some of us forest defenders are rowdy gringos. They're just against the state. Still, I don't know how you can connect to anything if that's your entire political analysis." And we talked about that sort of in the Best of the Left back channels here and you said that sort of explained or gave some insight in, into their life.

Could you expand?

BEN GRANT: Yeah. So as far as political ideology goes, Manny was definitely in the [01:12:00] anarchist camp, and so the anti-state sentiments are very strong for them. But the part about that quote that really stuck out to me was the part about the guiding political ideology. And I feel like that was sort of Manny, because they were never committed to any one thing, and so they had a tendency to maybe veer into what I'd call at times backwards actions. Maybe they weren't helping the movement as much as they thought they were, but no matter how they acted, interacted with various groups, came to actions, any of that sort of stuff, you could always know that regardless of what they were saying or the actions they were taking, they were genuine. They were doing everything they did with the best of intentions because their main goal was to help people and bring about the struggle of revolution.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: So now that the listeners [01:13:00] are informed and angry, do you want to do the honors and give some direction on what people can do? Talk a little bit what, whatever you know about the defend the Atlanta Forest organization.

BEN GRANT: Absolutely. So I have never interacted with the group myself. There was a small part of me that was jealous of Manny being able to pick up and move to Atlanta. It would be nice if we all lived the sort of nomadic lifestyle that lets people just pick up and move to defend a forest. But that org itself has been doing a lot of great work, both defending the forest, but bringing attention to people in the Atlanta area. Calling out all of the corporate interests that are involved in this. And so if you go to their website, which is defendtheatlantaforest.org, they have a list of resources on there where you can donate, where you can find the list of investors. You can call the city. They [01:14:00] have resources for organizing, bail funds and that sort of stuff because we've seen global solidarity with this movement and so they have some resources on their website to help out with that.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Excellent, thank you. And, I'll say it cuz I know you won't, but Ben, you are a badass on the ground activist in your hometown of Tallahassee, and when I asked you for some thoughts on where we could send people, you brought up something that applies to anyone everywhere and that's to focus on what's happening in their own hometown.

Could you expand on that?

BEN GRANT: Absolutely. It's easy to see something like this crop up and all the attention goes directly to Atlanta, which in the immediate makes sense, but as that dies down, it's important to take a look at what's happening in your own city. And so for example, here in Tallahassee, not even a month after a [01:15:00] Tallahassee resident being killed in Atlanta for the construction of Cop City, our own mayor has now proposed to give the Tallahassee Police Department an additional $1.7 million. on top of the $63 million budget they got for this fiscal year, which is one third of our city's total budget, to build a cop training center.

And this strikes me as hollow because you can look at a breakdown TPD's current budget and see how much is dedicated to training, and less than 2%, last time I checked, of that $63 million was going towards training. If they're already spending so little money on training, why do they need a police academy training center? Those two things don't really make sense to me, and it seems more of the same process we've seen [01:16:00] throughout time, but especially since the 2020 uprising of giving police more money as though chasing bad money with more money is going to fix the problem when we've seen time and time again that giving the police more money does nothing but increase their ability to oppress and repress the people.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: And of course mainstream conversation about police training is pretty monolithic. Everyone says we need more training, no one explains what they mean by training. So anyone on the left who is even thinking along the lines of new training is probably more in the line of like, we should teach police officers critical race theory.

BEN GRANT: Exactly.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: And I'm betting that's not what the people on the right mean when they say training. I think that advocating for more training is a perfectly reasonable thing to advocate for if you don't know that it's already been disproven. If you don't already know that we have tried that [01:17:00] for decades and the result have not been good, it's a perfectly reasonable thing to think, "yeah, more training, that seems like a good thing to do." It just turns out we, we've tried it and so it may be time to try something new.

BEN GRANT: Exactly. You say training and then you leave it there. Well, the police take that as, "oh, more counterinsurgency training. More urban warfare training." which is what has us in the situation dealing with these sort of things we're dealing with right now. That's why the SWAT team from Atlanta was approaching this public park, because to them, that's what training looks like because that's what their job is. And instead, those of us on the left think maybe we should learn how to deal with people in a way that doesn't involve guns.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Yeah. And you're just the last thought on this as we wrap up. I think a sort of a whistleblower came out, they were let go from the police force that they were a part of because they [01:18:00] said in public that they went through the training, they went through the part of the training, the deescalation, the "let's try to kill people less often" training, and then they also went to the other training, the "how to protect yourself", "how to make sure that if someone's gonna die, it's not you training," and of course, that training included comments about how basically you need to forget all the stuff that we told you in the deescalation training. "Look, we do that because the law says we have to do that, but you really shouldn't believe it." So how effective is that holistic training gonna be when they're explicitly telling the cops to ignore the good parts?

More training not enough to reform police culture says whistleblower - The Ried Out - Air Date 1-31-23

JOY REID - HOST, THE REID OUT: Katie Sponsler spent 11 years in the Air Force and five years as a law enforcement ranger with the National Park Service, where she attended her third police academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. This weekend, she tweeted some of what she learned in that training, like [01:19:00] how she was told.

To yell, "stop resisting" and "drop your weapon" after firing a gun because bystanders will remember that you said it and their memory will automatically reverse the order of events. She also noted that she was told that deescalation techniques will get me and other officers killed.

And as a smaller law enforcement officer, I was justified escalating my use of force faster than my colleagues, because I was always in danger, so I should use. She lost her job after questioning that training. And joining me now is Katie Sponsler, Air Force Veteran, former National Park Ranger and advocate for criminal justice reform.

Katie, I saw your thread and thought I have to talk to this lady. The common answer when we see something happen, like what happened to Tyre Nichols is we need more training. You seem to believe that is not true, why?

KATIE SPONSLER: I think that there's a huge cultural problem that's exposed and the more that we go through this training, it doesn't make a [01:20:00] difference if we don't address those underlying route in culture. And if we are going through deescalation or crisis intervention training and then turning around in defensive tactics or survival, street survival, or firearms training and saying "that doesn't work, that's just required by law, we have to do that", it doesn't do any good. And so we have to address those issues that are at the root cause of the cultural problem with law enforcement.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Well, Ben, thanks for coming on. I really appreciate your insight.

BEN GRANT: Thank you. Thanks for giving me time to explain Manny and maybe a slightly more personal light.


One more big thanks to Ben for coming on. He is not one to crave the spotlight for himself, quite the opposite actually, and so I really appreciate him coming on and sharing that perspective and stories.

As always. Keep the comments coming in. You can leave a voicemail as always, or you can now send us text messages through sms, WhatsApp, or Signal, all with the same number, [01:21:00] (202) 999-3991 or keep it old school by emailing me to [email protected].

Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Brian for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player.

And if you want to continue the discussion, you can join our Discord community to talk about the show, the [01:22:00] news, or practically anything you like, a link to join is in the show notes. So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.

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  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page in Transcripts 2023-02-05 19:00:39 -0500
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