Following three nights of intense protests over the police killing of Alton Sterling, ACLU Louisiana is suing the city of Baton Rouge, along with its police department, over the mistreatment of protesters demanding justice for the slain Baton Rouge man.
In the suit, filed Wednesday, the ACLU and four other groups accuse Baton Rouge police of using physical and verbal abuse, excessive force, and wrongful arrests to dispel demonstrators who gathered there to protest peacefully. It also cites eyewitness accounts of police dressed in head-to-toe riot gear with assault rifles, lunging at protesters and slamming them to the ground.
“[The police response] made me afraid to protest,” said Crystal Williams, a Baton Rouge resident and organizer with North Baton Rouge Matters. “Seeing the way the police were manhandling folks caused me to hide, scream out of fear, and finally flee for my safety. I had to run. A peaceful demonstration should never be like that.”
“I feel like speech is my most powerful tool to ensure my community and my family are safe,” she continued. “But now I feel totally silenced.”
According to Nola.com, nearly 200 protesters have been arrested since the July 5 shooting of 37-year-old Sterling. Prominent Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson was one of many arrested at a protest Saturday night.
The ACLU has also filed for a temporary restraining order against the Baton Rouge Police Department to prevent them from infringing upon “people’s constitutionally protected right to gather peacefully,” according to a press release. The order would ultimately place restrictions on how demonstrators are dispersed and detained during future protests.
According to Nola.com, the restraining order would also only allow officers to work protests if their names, agency and identifying number were clearly displayed. Officers would be barred from using chemical agents like tear gas without prior warning and authorization from Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Throughout the chaos, Edwards has defended his officers, calling their response “moderate,” CBS News reports. President of the Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Alison Renee McCrary, thinks otherwise.
“I witnessed firsthand as peaceful protesters were violently attacked and arrested, assault weapons pointed at them with fingers on the triggers, some dragged across the cement, their clothes ripped off of them,” McCrary said in a press release. “What I saw happening was an immediate threat to life. My and other demonstrators’ speech was chilled because of this event.”
According to authorities, police made several arrests during a march Sunday after protesters began hurling large pieces of cement at officers.
“This group was certainly not about a peaceful protest,” Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the state police, told Nola.com.
Per the news site, those named as defendants in the ACLU lawsuit include the City of Baton Rouge; Baton Rouge Police Department; Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, Jr.; Louisiana Department of Public Safety; Louisiana State Police Col. Michael Edmonson; and several others.
“The police didn’t do their job in Baton Rouge, again,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman. “They are bound to protect us from harm, to keep us safe, to do everything possible before throwing someone to the ground or pulling the trigger.”
“Yet Alton Sterling is on the long list of Black people killed needlessly by our nation’s police, and protests in his honor have turned into circuses of violence where the First Amendment is tossed aside,” Esman continued. “We can’t bring Alton Sterling back but at minimum, the police can stop blocking our right to protest in his name.”