Indigenous Climate Activist Victor Puertas Remains in Custody Despite No Indictment

Lumpkin, GA — It has been almost five months since Victor Puertas was arrested at the South River Music Festival in DeKalb County, GA on March 5, and even though no evidence has been levied against him, he has been behind bars ever since. Throughout his detainment, he has been continuously denied bond and has yet to be indicted on the one charge against him — state-level domestic terrorism.

Puertas was initially in the custody of DeKalb County for 90 days, and because the county didn’t indict him, they needed to set his bail and allow his release, per Georgia law. According to a recent statement written by Puertas, after he was released on bond from DeKalb County, he was “immediately detained by ICE and driven to Stewart Detention Center.”

“Georgia has not criminally indicted me at any point, but I still sit in a cage.”

Victor Puertas

He continued, “Although it’s a new cell I’m in, the conditions are the same. The degradation, the 23 hours of lockdown, the complete lack of freedom and agency, the constant surveillance, and in this place, the perpetual threat of deportation from my home and my family hanging over my head.”

On June 29, 2023, clergy members and supporters of Puertas rallied outside Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA while two faith leaders visited him inside. This event was part of a “week of action” against ‘Cop City’ in June.

Reverend Darci Jaret, pastor at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta, spoke with Unicorn Riot during the rally: “Today we’re here at Stewart Detention Center to vigil with Victor, to introduce Victor to the land. They were transferred from DeKalb County never having been here before, so connecting Victor to the land through us has been a big part of what I do each time that we visit.”

Jaret visits Puertas once a week at the ICE facility, and with that ongoing connection and show of solidarity, Jaret hopes to introduce the world to Victor.

“We want the world to know Victor, to know how much Victor has served, how much Victor has done. And what Victor says is when those of you out there want to help him, please write letters, you can do that, but what they say is, serve your community. That’s how you can help Victor. They have such a mind for building, for helping those around them, that their big message to me the last time we visited was, ‘When people want to help me, look around you, see who needs help and help them.'”

There are at least 42 people charged with state-level domestic terrorism for their alleged involvement in the ongoing effort to stop ‘Cop City’ and to defend the Weelaunee Forest, aka South River Forest. Twenty-three, including Puertas, were arrested during a music festival which was scheduled as part of a “week of action” against the construction of ‘Cop City’ in March. It appears that police attacked the festival in response to a mass act of sabotage on construction equipment and police infrastructure that occurred about an hour earlier and nearly a mile away.

Unicorn Riot was live on the ground in the Weelaunee Forest as police charged the festival, brandishing assault rifles and tackled, tased and otherwise assaulted festival attendees. Puertas was one of the people tased and tackled by officers. He was also placed in a chokehold.

Below is a statement written by Victor Puertas.

“After three months of incarceration in one of the most dilapidated jails in the South — a place famous for its violence and for multiple cases of human rights abuse — I wish to speak out as the carceral state that took my freedom away continues its oppression. After finally being released on bond from DeKalb County, I was immediately detained by ICE and driven to Stewart Detention Center, a jail for migrants and refugee people. Georgia has not criminally indicted me at any point, but I still sit in a cage. Although it’s a new cell I’m in, the conditions are the same. The degradation, the 23 hours of lockdown, the complete lack of freedom and agency, the constant surveillance, and in this place, the perpetual threat of deportation from my home and my family hanging over my head.

I am a sundancer, an Indigenous person, a brother, a son, a human being in community with the earth and all of the beings that call this place home. My family is here on Turtle Island; I have called this land home since I was young. I have long advocated for the earth; protesting lies at the foundation of a just society. Civil disobedience is a part of the rich history of the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta. It was not a crime to join my voice with the voices of many asking for justice for a mother grieving her child — Tortuguita. I have done nothing wrong. I was brutalized, falsely charged, and forced to sit inside a cell for months without indictment. 

First the state labeled me a domestic terrorist. Now the state has labeled me illegal. They have decided my existence is a crime, my life and my humanity outlawed. I am facing an enormous machine, an extremely complicated system that crushes people’s lives and is designed to set people up to fail. A system most people agree you cannot navigate alone — the immigration system.

After months of captivity and possibly many more ahead, I want to say to everyone that I am still resisting this ridiculous narrative and fighting to be free once again. Fighting for the right to be back with my loved ones, to be back to the land that nurtures my spirit and supports my heart. And to not be separated from love in my life.

To my family — my relatives, old friends, new friends, comrades — to all of you that have reached out and shown support in different ways, to all of you who have sent postcard letters, messages, words of inspiration and solidarity in struggle. To all of you who have stood by my side since the beginning, through all these months: I see you, I salute you, and I am deeply grateful for your presence in my life. I embrace all of you in my heart and spirit, and I am so grateful. I take courage in knowing that in detention I am not alone. I am with the ancestors and all of you.

May these walls of concrete, steel, and hate stand down with the power of the people and the growth of forest returning. May all of us who are not Indigenous to this land acknowledge our responsibility to be accountable for our lives, intentions, and actions on occupied Indigenous lands and territories and to stand with Indigenous people protecting their water, lives, and all things sacred. May all of us stand in solidarity with the most marginalized and vulnerable among us. Migrant and refugee relatives face persecution and detention in massive numbers across the land. Long live Tortuguita! May all of us embrace and honor their memory. From Stewart Detention Center, unit B6: Freedom to exist! Freedom to move and the right to return! Free us all!”

Victor Puertas

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