Queer Indigenous Activist Tortuguita Shot and Killed by Police in Georgia

tortuguita via social media

Tortuguita, an Indigenous Venezuelan who was also queer and nonbinary, was killed in Atlanta on Wednesday, January 18, 2023. They died from gunshots from police performing a “clearning operation.” They were 26 years old.

Officials claim Tortuguita fired their weapon first, wounding a law enforcement officer. Police claim to have returned fire when they shot them. Accounts vary about the sequence of events, but it is clearly established that the law enforcement agents participating in this operation did not have body worn camera. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp expressed condolences for the injured trooper, who was shot in the lower abdomen and whose condition has stabilized following surgery, but did not acknowledge Tortuguita’s death. 

It doesn’t make sense to me that an experienced activist, committed to nonviolence, and with clearly documented statements denouncing violent protest tactics, would fire a single shot into what they know is a SWAT team surrounding their tent. That’s a clear death wish, as well as knowingly inciting violence upon their neighbors, and it does not seem consistent with what everyone is saying about this person. According to friends, there has been no information released about Tortuguita’s cause of death, the number of bullets that pieced their body, or any information except the fact that they owned a licensed gun – the sole fact released and adamantly disputed. There are increasing calls for independent investigations.

According to Them, in August 2021, Atlanta officials announced plans to construct a new police training facility in the South River Forest, Protestors have denounced the plans which include a shooting range, mock city and burn building. They also object to the environmental impact, given its location within one of Atlanta’s largest remaining green spaces and a poor, predominantly Black area. Protesters set up an encampment where Tortuguita and others were peacefully resisting.

The land was home to the Muscogee tribe, who were violently expelled in the 1820s and 1830s. As an acknowledgment, they call the land by its Muscogee name, the Weelaunee Forest. In 2017, Atlanta’s city charter was modified to preserve the forest and make it a historic public amenity.

Tortuguita was described as “a kind, passionate, and loving person, cherished by their community.” According to friends, they divided their time between Atlanta, and Florida where they helped build housing in low income communities. They were “a trained medic, a loving partner, a dear friend, a brave soul, and so much more.” They attended FSU’s Panama Campus from 2016 to 2019, then attended school in Tallahassee from January 2020 to April 2021. They later graduated in December 2021 with a B.S. in Psychology.

Greenpeace released a statement

“We join the cries of solidarity with Tortuguita and others who have been killed while standing up to climate destruction and police violence. Defending our environmental rights should never end with getting killed by the police.   Over the past few years, we’ve seen the astronomical rise of brutality against environmental activists around the world – a horrible symptom of a wider assault on our constitutional rights and democracy. An environmental activist has been killed every other day for the past decade. This must end. 

“Using the term “terrorists” to label activists and protectors of the forest continues to suppress the protest movement and creates hateful rhetoric that is used to further divide us. Defending and protecting against the destruction of forests needed for clean and breathable air should not be labeled as an act of terrorism. No one should face police violence for dissent against environmental destruction and police militarization.”

Tortuguita is survived by their mother Belkis Terán of Venezuela and four brothers and their father Joel. A GoFundMe has been set up to support the family.

Vigils have been held across the nation. You can find more via the Twitter account.

Tortuguita is the third transgender or nonbinary person known to be murdered in the United States in 2023. They are the first nonbinary person and the first Indigenous person and person of color. Their death means a trans and nonbinary person has reportedly died a violent death every six days in 2023.

Rest in power, Tortuguita. Thank you for protecting our land, our environment, and our community. I hope your death contributes to a change in how we understand environmental activism and nonbinary identities. I am sorry you were ripped violently from this world and hope that you find peace now.

May your memory be a revolution.

In 2022, we reported on the violent deaths of 40 trans and nonbinary neighbors in the United States. There were more, I know because I am still pursuing some of those cases.

EDIT: this post was updated to correct a pronoun error. it was a typographical error and not an erasure of this person’s identity. we apologize for this mistake, appreciate the clarification, and will strive to do better. 

This is our list of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming neighbors who have been victims of the campaign of terror in 2023. Please do not copy, modify, or share this list without attribution.  

  1. Jasmine ‘Star’ Mack – District of Columbia, January 7, 2023. Age 36.
  2. KC Johnson – Wilmington, North Carolina, January 13, 2023. Age 27.
  3. Tortuguita – Weelaunee Forest, Georgia, January 18, 2023. Age 26.
Trans deaths


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