On Wednesday, the ACLU of Louisiana and four other groups filed a lawsuit against the City of Baton Rouge, its police department and several other area law enforcement agencies, accusing authorities of violating the constitutional rights of protesters demonstrating against the shooting of Alton Sterling. About 200 marchers have been arrested in Baton Rouge since Sterling was killed by police last week, NOLA.com reports.
Among other allegations, the suit claims police arrested protesters for failing to comply with contradictory orders, trespassing after being forced from public property and blocking traffic in the absence of obstruction. According to the ACLU, police response was “designed to intimidate protestors and deter the continued exercise of First Amendment rights.” From CBS News:
The groups have reportedly collected eyewitness accounts that describe the actions of police in full riot gear with assault rifles. The reports claim that the police lunged and grabbed at protesters, throwing them down to the ground.
“[The police response] 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,” expressed Crystal Williams, local resident and organizer with North Baton Rouge Matters. “I feel like speech is my most powerful tool to ensure my community and my family are safe. But now I feel totally silenced.”
The governor has defended the police, calling their response “moderate.”
The ACLU has also filed a temporary restraining order against area authorities to stop them from “interfering with people’s constitutionally protected right to gather peacefully moving forward.”
“We’ve been very clear that we want them to have every opportunity to protest and voice their opinion,” Major Doug Cain told The Advocate. “But if you move into the roadway and break the law, you’re going to be arrested.”