The Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union Wednesday sued law-enforcement authorities in Baton Rouge for last week´s arrests of as many as 160 demonstrators, most of who were merely exercising their constitutionally-protected right to free speech.
Hundreds poured into the streets of Baton Rouge last week to protest the videotaped fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling, an African American man. In a press release Wednesday, the ACLU asserts that police physically and verbally assaulted protesters, and wrongfully arrested demonstrators who had assembled peacefully. Witnesses have said that police in full riot gear and armed with assault rifles waded into the crowd to accost demonstrators, throwing some violently to the ground.
Lee Rowland, a Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU said in a statement that “... it doesn’t appear that the law enforcement agencies in Baton Rouge care much for our Constitution, or for the liberties of its own citizens. Instead officers have shown naked hostility to the constitutional rights of the citizens they have a duty to serve.” .
Police in riot gear storming a residential property in Baton Rouge on July 11:
Crystal Williams, an organizer with North Baton Rouge Matters, an offshoot of Black Lives Matter, said that the police overreaction “...made me afraid to protest. 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,” she said. “I feel like speech is my most powerful tool to ensure my community and my family are safe. But now I feel totally silenced.”
“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,” said Alison Renee McCrary, President of the Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, in the press release. “What I saw happening was an immediate threat to life. My and other demonstrators’ speech was chilled because of this event.”
The ACLU suit was filed in US District Court on behalf of community organizations like Black Youth Power 100 New Orleans, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, and Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild. In the suit, the ACLU contends that police escalated “a nonviolent protest into a full-scale conflict between the citizens and the police.”
“We can’t bring Alton Sterling back but at minimum, the police can stop blocking our right to protest in his name,” said Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman.