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Baton Rouge Police Sued Over Arrest Of Peaceful Protesters

Above Photo: AP Photo/Max Becherer

THE BATON ROUGE Police Department and state law enforcement officials were sued in federal court on Wednesday for violating the First Amendment rights of dozens of protesters detained at demonstrations in the city last weekend.

The suit, which asks for a restraining order to prohibit officers from arresting or intimidating protesters rallying to express their anger at the killing of Alton Sterling, was filed by a coalition of rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild.

Imani explained that she and Muhammad, who was streaming live video using Twitter’s Periscope app, did not expect to get arrested themselves, since they were making an effort to understand the police orders and get the protesters to comply. “We were trying to quell antagonism — instead of shouting ‘F the Police,’ we were trying to get people to shout Alton Sterling’s name,” she said. That effort failed to stop the officers from escalating the confrontation with more aggressive tactics, Imani added. “When we started chanting, ‘The whole world is watching,’ they were enraged,” she said. Imani added that when the police started roughly arresting protesters, she was particularly worried for a friend, the rapper and activist Sellassie Blackwell, who recently went on hunger strike to protest police violence in San Francisco. As the police moved in, Sellassie was photographed standing defiantly before them, wearing a T-shirt with a quote from Frederick Douglass: “I will united with anyone to do right, but with no one to do wrong.” Muhammad later posted more than 10 minutes of his footage on YouTube. That video begins with the police driving an armored vehicle with a blaring siren directly at the protesters, and ends with Muhammad and Imani advising protesters who did not want to disperse but had largely cleared the streets that a resident of the area had invited protesters onto her property, hoping to shield them from arrest.

“The police said being on private property is not good enough, you have to leave the area,” Imani recalled, “but we were flanked in all sides.”

Imani, who lost her red jacket in the mayhem, was photographed screaming as she was dragged away. She told The Intercept she had been trampled during her arrest, had watched her partner be tackled, and was concerned for her safety. “I heard one of the officers shout, ‘Really give it to her,’” she said. “They were marching me to the other side of the SWAT vehicle,” she added, explaining that her fear was of being beaten out of view of the cameras and other observers. “I started screaming, and that was because I was fearing for my life,” she said. “And they made the zip tie so tight, my hands turned purple.”

When she was processed later, another officer who took her details apologized to her for the tightness of the plastic cuffs. “He said, ‘I hate when they do this,’” she recalled.

Imani also noted that none of the officers who arrested her read her her rights, even though she asked them to do so.

Muhammad told NPR later that he too had been roughly treated.

They slammed me on to the ground. They jammed their knee into the back of my neck and to my back, and they put the zip ties on as tight as they possibly could. And then they — as we were walking down the street, I guess, I was walking too fast for one of the officers. And they said slow down. This is our show now.

More video of the protesters being boxed in and roughly arrested was streamed live to Facebook by another demonstrator.

That footage, the ACLU noted, shows the impossible position the police put the protesters in:

First the police told protesters to get off the street. So protesters went to the sidewalks. Then they were told to get off the sidewalks — and a private property owner offered refuge. So the cops told people the assembly was no longer lawful, and they’d be arrested. Where, exactly, do government officials expect their citizens to protest? It’s looking, unfortunately, like the answer is “nowhere.”

As Bill Quigley, a professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans, noted in the Huffington Post, one of the journalists arrested a day earlier outside the Baton Rouge police headquarters, Ryan Kailath of NPR, had shared video of the moment he was detained for supposedly obstructing traffic that plainly showed he was standing next to the road, not on it.

As the activist DeRay Mckesson noted, visual evidence suggested that some of the protesters detained over the weekend, including a young man named Javier Dunn, had been beaten by officers.

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