FBI officials warned Louisiana police departments of planned “violence against law enforcement officers and riots” prior to the chaotic arrests in Baton Rouge over the weekend, according to federal documents.
The federal agency’s New Orleans Division released a Situational Information Report July 7, AlterNet reports, alerting first responders of “threats” to police and “potential threats” to the safety of the general public inspired by the death of Alton Sterling, an African-American resident who was shot and killed by police while selling CDs outside a convenience store.
According to the document, “multiple groups” were calling for or planning attacks on officials in Baton Rouge and Shreveport, Louisiana, “beginning Friday, 8 July 2016 and continuing through at least 10 July 2016.”
Confirmation of these threats appears to be images and messages posted to social media, including an illustration of a masked individual slicing open a kneeled officer’s throat and one flyer calling for locals to meet at the courthouse in Shreveport at 10 a.m. on July 8, which read “Stand for something or fall for anything. #AltonSterling. #DoSomethingOrShutUp.”
Three postings reference “purge”-style killings of all police.
“Baton Rouge Purge Starts July 9th 12am ends 5am July 10th…Rule1 Must Kill every Police!!!! Copy and Paste so noOne in your family be purge [sic],” one reads.
As countless news videos and photographs have shown, police arrived to the sites of peaceful protests and marches in armored vehicles, cloaked in riot gear and armed with powerful rifles. Those marching along interstates were targeted by police, who ordered them to stay on the grass or stick to back roads.
Activists attempting to take refuge at private residences have said they were dragged out of homes and arrested by cops. Louisiana State University graduate Elizabeth Thomas gathered with protesters on the front yard of one home.
She told Reason, “We weren’t swearing at the police, we weren’t being aggressive, we were assembled peacefully. And the police came on this woman’s private property after she gave us permission.”
Others said they were unlawfully arrested for obstructing highways after following police orders.
Prominent Black Lives Matter leader DeRay Mckesson was among those arrested, and he captured the moments before his detainment in a Periscope video.
“The police in Baton Rouge have been truly awful tonight,” Mckesson tells fellow protesters while walking along a highway in the recording. “They have provoked people, they chase people just for kicks. The police have been violent tonight. The protesters have not.”
Seconds later, Mckesson is accosted by an officer. According to ABC News, police records said the activist was taken into custody for entering the highway after repeated orders to exit the lanes of travel.
Mckesson maintained he was compliant in an interview with news anchor Katie Couric following his release Sunday.
“The police gave an order, I followed the order and I was arrested nonetheless,” he said. “I maintain that the arrest was unlawful.”
More than 200 demonstrators, journalists and legal observers were incarcerated in and around the city over the three days of civil unrest.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, along with the Louisiana National Lawyers Guild and other social justice groups, filed a lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Police Department Wednesday, accusing officers of violating protesters’ First Amendment rights.
“Plaintiffs have engaged in this peaceful speech, association, and protest on the streets, sidewalks, and medians of Baton Rouge. Unfortunately, this exercise of constitutional rights has been met with a military-grade assault on protesters’ bodies and rights,” the lawsuit read, per the Associated Press.
The suit alleges officers used excessive force, “including physically tackling nonviolent demonstrators and use mace, taser charges, and/or pepper spray on nonviolent protesters”; gave unclear instructions to demonstrators before arresting them for noncompliance; and arrested protesters who stepped on any paved road for obstruction, regardless of whether they were blocking any travel paths.
The groups have also filed a temporary restraining order against the department to prevent officials from interfering with protesters’ rights to peacefully assemble moving forward, USAToday reports.