Hip Hop Caucus Statement on the Anniversary of Tortuguita’s Tragic Death and the Ongoing Criminalization of Protest

WASHINGTON—Hip Hop Caucus deeply mourns the loss of Tortuguita, a fearless environmental activist and a prominent figure in the Stop Cop City movement, who was killed one year ago today.

Manuel Paez Terán, also known as Tortuguita, was shot at least 14 times by police, leaving 57 wounds. Tortuguita’s death at the hands of Georgia state troopers, along with the Georgia bureau of investigation’s concealment of files surrounding his death, and the Stone Mountain district attorney’s finding of deadly force as reasonable, should haunt all of us. These actions by officials meant to protect our communities serve as a stark reminder that the struggle for justice and police accountability is far from over.

As we solemnly commemorate Tortuguita’s tragic passing, we must also take a moment to remember all of the human, civil, and environmental rights defenders whose lives have been cut short while fighting for justice. The irony is not lost on us that Tortuguita was slain in metro Atlanta just days removed from the birthday of Atlanta’s most famous resident and our nation’s most well known civil rights leader. It is not taken lightly that the same corporate greed that sought to quiet MLK’s message of economic freedom in his last days is once again providing cover for COP City and over-policing.

The criminalization of Stop Cop City activists is deeply troubling and threatens our fundamental rights. Safeguarding the space for peaceful protest is essential to the fabric of our democracy. It is imperative that activists like Tortuguita are not subjected to police violence or unfairly targeted or branded as criminals while advocating for change. We denounce unjust tactics reminiscent of the dark days of COINTELPRO and Jim Crow, including the overuse of domestic terrorism and racketeering charges, to silence activist voices.

As we honor the life and legacy of Tortuguita, may his spirit continue to inspire us all to stand up for our rights, seek justice, and work tirelessly to Stop Cop City.