Black Lives Matter activist freed from Louisiana jail

Rebecca Santana
Associated Press

Baton Rouge, La. — A prominent Black Lives Matter activist, three journalists and more than 120 other people were taken into custody in Louisiana over the weekend, authorities said Sunday, in connection with protests over the fatal shooting of an African-American man by two white police officers in Baton Rouge.

Spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office told The Associated Press that nearly 100 people were taken to the parish jail over protests that began late Saturday. Most of those arrested were from Louisiana and faced a single charge of obstructing a highway.

A first wave of arrests took place on Friday and early Saturday, with 30 people taken into custody.

Police began releasing those who were arrested on Sunday afternoon. Kira Marrero, 21, of New Orleans, who faces a charge of obstructing a highway, was the first to leave the jail. She says she was not standing on the road.

“I did the right thing,” said Marrero, a 2015 graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts. “I have no doubt in my mind that I did nothing wrong.”

Tensions between black citizens and police have risen palpably over the past week or so amid police shootings of African-American men in Minnesota and Louisiana and the gunning down of five white police officers by a black suspect in Dallas in apparent retaliation.

Among those arrested was DeRay Mckesson, a leading figure in the Black Lives Matter movement that blossomed in recent years in the wake of numerous deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. Mckesson smiled and embraced supporters upon his release from jail Sunday afternoon.

“I remain disappointed in the Baton Rouge police, who continue to provoke protesters for peacefully protesting. There’s a lot of work to be done, with this police department specifically,” he said.

Authorities had just arrested a couple on a motorcycle driving by on the street when attention turned toward Mckesson, who had traveled from Baltimore for the protest and happened to be wearing bright red shoes. An officer could be seen pointing to a man and heard saying that he’d arrest the man with “loud shoes” if he could reach him.

Booking documents provided by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office said Mckesson was arrested on a charge of obstructing a highway.

An affidavit of probable cause filed by police says Mckesson “intentionally” placed himself in the road after protesters were repeatedly warned via police loud speaker to remain on private property or the curb.

“During the protest, the defendant entered the roadway and was provided another verbal order to exit the lanes of travel. Moments later, the defendant entered the roadway again and was taken into custody by officers on scene without incident,” the affidavit said.

Activist Brittany Packett, who was with Mckesson, said in an email that he was on the highway shoulder when “multiple police crossed onto the shoulder, tackling Deray and arresting him.”

Photo images taken by The Associated Press show police apprehending Mckesson, who at one point was on his knees before being pulled to his feet by police and led away with his hands secured behind his back.

Baton Rouge police blamed violence and out-of-town agitators for the large number of arrests, noting that an earlier march the same evening was peaceful and nobody was arrested.

One police officer lost teeth to a projectile thrown from the protest Saturday night outside police headquarters, and police also confiscated three rifles, three shotguns and two pistols during that protest, Sgt. Don Coppola, a police spokesman, said in an emailed statement.

“It appears the protest at Baton Rouge Police Headquarters have become more violent as out of town protesters are arriving,” he wrote.

The list released by the sheriff’s office included two homeless people and 18 from out of state, including Mckesson. The vast majority of the Louisiana residents were from the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.

It was not clear just what police blamed on “out of town protesters.” Only one person from outside the Baton Rouge area faced a charge other than obstructing a highway.

Three people — two from Baton Rouge and one from Humble, Texas — face a charge of inciting to riot, and four — all from the Baton Rouge area — face a charge of resisting arrest.

Darren Bowers, 26, of Baton Rouge, arrived at the jail around 9 a.m. Sunday to see if he could get his girlfriend, 26-year-old Ariel Bates, released. Bowers wasn’t present when Bates was arrested near police headquarters. Bowers said she called him from the jail early Sunday.

“She told me that they jumped all on her and her cousin on the grass. They weren’t on the street or anything,” Bowers said.

He said he believes police are “antagonizing” protesters.

“People are peacefully protesting. Why are (police) in riot gear?” he said.

The tumult over police killings reached well beyond Louisiana. In Minnesota, police arrested about 100 people in the capital of St. Paul during protests. Authorities said 21 St. Paul officers and six state troopers were hurt late Saturday and early Sunday during clashes stemming from the police shooting and killing of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, during a traffic stop in suburban St. Paul on Wednesday.

The starting point of Saturday’s demonstration was the convenience store where 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot and killed last week. Protesters then fanned out to the Baton Rouge police department and the state Capitol.

The Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Sterling’s death.

Shouting “No justice! No peace!” roughly 1,000 protesters gathered outside the police department, waving homemade signs as passing cars honked their support.

Police in riot gear came out numerous times as the demonstration wore on into the evening, facing off against the crowd that yelled slogans and waved signs.

Authorities said they pulled in officers from nearby parishes to buttress their numbers.

WAFB-TV reporter Chris Slaughter was among those arrested, Hicks confirmed. Eve Troeoh, news director for New Orleans public radio station WWNO, said staff reporter Ryan Kailath was arrested.

Breitbart News reported that Lee Stranahan, one of its reporters, was arrested.

Members of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense called for the arrest and indictment of the officers involved in Sterling’s shooting, shouting “Black Power” and raising their fists.

“These are human rights violations,” Krystal Muhammad shouted to the crowd at the convenience store before heading over to the police department. “They are not operating as human beings. They are being predators on our communities across America.”