“WE WANTED TO BE SURE THAT PEOPLE WERE ABLE TO ENGAGE IN FIRST AMENDMENT ACTIVITY AND WERE INSTEAD MET BY AGGRESSIVE LAW ENFORCEMENT”
On Sunday thousands of protestors gathered in Baton Rouge to peacefully protest the killing of Alton Sterling by the Baton Rouge Parish Police Department. The large protests followed days of building local mobilization.
Between Friday and Sunday, more than 150 non-violent protesters were arrested, and dozens documented incidents of civil and constitutional violations including excessive use of force and unlawful infringement on First Amendment rights. “Over the past few days, law enforcement in Baton Rouge have escalated many interactions with the public civilian population, creating a more dangerous environment for everyone,” says May Nguyen, Secretary of the National Lawyers Guild Louisiana Chapter.
On Saturday afternoon, following a permitted peaceful protest, protesters were met by more than 100 law enforcement officers including Baton Rouge sheriffs deputies, Louisiana State Police, and Baton Rouge Police in full riot gear and military assault rifles. Law enforcement formed deep lines that cornered hundreds of protesters onto the sidewalks of two residential streets, and a resident’s small front lawn, with permission but with no place to exit. Anyone who moved was aggressively tackled to the ground and arrested. Law enforcement also targeted snatch-and-grab arrests of individuals who posed no threat to public safety, charged at the demonstrators chasing them with assault rifles, and entered a resident’s home who had begun sheltering demonstrators.
Professionally-trained negotiators attempted to intervene with law enforcement at the confrontation, but they refused to cooperate and deescalate the situation. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal, a local attorney and Vice President of the Louisiana National Lawyers Guild, said “myself and members of the NLG tried many times to intervene and ask law enforcement to de-escalate. Many of them were holding assault rifles with fingers on their triggers and those guns were pointed at the protesters. I had a clear view of both sides of the street; I did not see one thing was thrown by the protesters. I did not see any rocks or asphalt being thrown by protesters.”
Over the last few days, in addition to escalating the confrontation against peaceful protestors the police arrested at least two National Lawyers Guild legal observers and 3 members of the press including WWNO reporter Ryan Kailath. “We are also seeing that protesters are being charged with crimes unrelated to any activity documented at the protests. A legal observer standing and documenting the protest was charged with obstruction of a highway and resisting an officer. Protesters who were dragged and tackled into the street are being charged with blocking traffic,” said Sima Atri, a civil rights attorney supporting local organizers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. “Protesters are also being mistreated in jail after their arrest. We have documented reports of protesters engaging in peaceful vigil and song being maced, medication being withheld, 40 to 50 protesters being caged in small cells, and sheriffs making aggressive, violent, and discriminatory comments.”
Protesters continue to be held at East Baton Rouge Prison. None are being released without bond.
The National Lawyers Guild has been supporting individuals engaging in protest through legal observing, posting of bond, and additional criminal defense legal support. NLG is also operating a 24/7 Legal Hotline at225-341-2287.