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A protester was shot dead while opposing a $90m Atlanta ‘Cop City’ training centre. What went wrong?

Activists across Atlanta are planning a string of events for the weekend in honour of Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, 26, a protester who was fatally shot by police on Wednesday during an operation evicting demonstrators protesting the construction of a $90m police training centre in an area forest.

Defend the Atlanta Forest, one of the groups opposing the construction of the sprawling “Cop City” development, said a vigil would be held inside the forest on Friday evening. Remembrances are expected to continue through Saturday.

A Twitter account with unclear affiliation to the opposition movement was suspended for calling for a “night of rage” and “reciprocal violence” on Friday.

Teran, known by fellow activists as Tortuguita, was killed in Wednesday, as a multi-agency task force moved into the South River Forest to clear out the encampments of protesters who have been fighting the Cop City project since 2021.

The forest protester, who used they/them pronouns, “was a kind, passionate, and loving person, cherished by their community,” according to a Twitter post from the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, another local group.

“They spent their time between Atlanta, defending the forest from destruction and coordinating mutual aid for the movement and Florida, where they helped build housing in low income communities hit hardest by the hurricane,” the group added.

Georgia officials say Teran fired unprovoked on officers after failing to comply with commands, while activist groups say this account is false or questionable.

“We have reason to believe the officer shot today was hit by ‘friendly fire’ and not by the protester who was killed,” Defend the Atlanta Forest wrote on Twitter following the incident.

“To our knowledge so far, we find it less than likely that the police version of events is what really happened,” local organiser Kamau Franklin of Community Movement Builders told Democracy Now!. “The idea that he was sitting in a tent and fired out of the tent at basically a SWAT team.”

“Resident say they hear a blast off gunshots all at once, not one blast then a return of fire,” Mr Kamau continued.

Activist groups have called for officials to release the name of the officers involved in the shooting, as well as body camera footage of what happened.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, whose officers were involved in the taskforce raid where the shooting took place, will investigate the death of the activist, Fox 5 Atlanta reports.

Seven others were arrrested on Wednesday on domestic terrorism charges in the raid that killed Teran, Fox 5 reports: Geoffrey Parsons, 20, of Maryland; Spencer Bernard Liberto, 29, of Pennsylvania; Matthew Ernest Macar, 30, of Pennsylvania; Timothy Murphy, 25, of Maine; Christopher Reynolds, 31, of Ohio; Teresa Shen, 31, of New York; and Sarah Wasilewski, 35, of Pennsylvania.

Five others were arrested late last year on similar charges for their ties to the forest movement.

The Cop City project, which is slated to open later this year, is paid for jointly by the city of Atlanta and the private Atlanta Police Foundation, which counts as donors and board members major corporations like Amazon, Chick-fil-A, and Delta Airlines.

The facility, which is expected to feature a “mock village” with a full fake nightclub and convenience store for training scenarios, has attracted widespread local opposition, from groups ranging to civil rights protesters to environmentalists to native groups, who argue the facility is the latest reminder of how the Muscogee Creek were violently pushed off the forest land in the 1800s.