Officers stared down hundreds protesting against police killings near a ramp leading to an interstate in Louisiana’s capital Sunday night before another squad in riot gear arrived and authorities took dozens into custody.
Earlier Sunday, some 2,000 people rallied outside the Capitol building to protest police killings of black people, State Police Maj. Doug Cain said.
“They didn’t have any problems out there. They seemed to be very organized and peaceful,” Cain said.
But by nightfall, a few hundred people aimed for an on-ramp of Interstate 110, trying a tactic protesters were using over the weekend in multiple cities.
And after a lengthy standoff, more police in full riot gear moved in, pinning some of the protesters as others fled. Some 30 to 40 people were taken into custody for trying to block a highway, sheriff’s spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said.
That could push Baton Rouge’s weekend arrest total above 160, with just one reported injury to a police officer.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he was “very proud” of the Louisiana law enforcement response to the protests that have followed the fatal shooting of a black man by white police officers in the city.
Flanked by law enforcement leaders, Edwards said he doesn’t believe officers have been overly aggressive by using riot gear to push protesters off a highway.
“The police tactics in response have been very moderate. I’m very proud of that,” said the Democratic governor, who comes from a family of sheriffs.
Tensions between black citizens and police have risen palpably after 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.
Activists said they were dismayed by the police response.
“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,” said DeRay Mckesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist.
The Baton Rouge police spokesman, Sgt. Don Coppola, blamed some violence and the large number of arrests on outside agitators. One officer lost teeth to a projectile thrown outside police headquarters, and police also confiscated three rifles, three shotguns and two pistols during that protest, he wrote in an email.
“It appears the protest at Baton Rouge Police Headquarters have become more violent as out of town protesters are arriving,” he said.
But most of those detained live in Louisiana and faced a single charge of obstructing a highway, Hicks told The Associated Press.
The tumult reached well beyond Louisiana. In Minnesota, authorities said 21 law enforcement officers were hurt and about 100 people were arrested late Saturday and early Sunday during clashes in the state capital over the police killing of Philando Castile.
There was very little violence by comparison in Baton Rouge.
“I can assure everyone we are hearing the protesters,” the governor said. “We are listening to their voices. But I’m especially gratified that our citizens here in Louisiana, to a very large degree, have decided to protest in a constructive and peaceful manner.”
Edwards said hundreds have marched around the city, with only one injury to an officer and mostly misdemeanor arrests. Protesting peacefully is the best way to honor those killed, he said, adding that authorities won’t allow people “to incite hate and violence.”
“I want to be clear that will not be tolerated. We don’t operate like that in Louisiana,” he said.
The list of those arrested released by the sheriff’s office included two homeless people, and 18 are from out of state. The vast majority of the Louisiana residents were from the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.
Demonstrations also occurred Saturday, beginning near the convenience store where 37-year-old Alton Sterling was killed by police. The protests then fanned out through the state Capitol.
Over the weekend, members of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense called for the arrest and indictment of the officers involved in Sterling’s death, shouting “Black Power” and raising their fists. The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation.
“These are human rights violations,” Krystal Muhammad shouted to the crowd at the convenience store. “They are not operating as human beings. They are being predators on our communities across America.”