BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — At least one officer aimed an automatic weapon at protesters Saturday night in Baton Rouge as police clad in riot gear advanced on a group marching toward the Interstate-12 onramp. The officer pointed the gun at onlookers, who were mostly teenagers and young adults.
Waving the weapon back and forth, the officer yelled, “get back” as several additional officers threw a protester to the ground while making an arrest.
Screams of “don’t shoot, don’t shoot” pierced the heavy air.
“I feel like the cops are being intimidating in a way and at the same time, they’re looking for a reason to take us out,” said Baton Rouge resident Tyler Jones,16, nodding toward another officer looking down the barrel of a weapon from his perch atop one of several military-style vehicles that rolled by.
Protests in Baton Rouge were mostly peaceful, but escalated around 11pm as activists briefly shut down Airline Boulevard and marched toward I-12. The crowds were protesting the death of Alton Sterling, who was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police officers on July 5th.
For many teens and young adults, the protest wasn’t just about the anguish of seeing a member of their community killed by police, but about an ongoing distrust of law enforcement and a concern for their future.
“I actually am scared, because I have a brother and I have a boyfriend. And if they get pulled over, what’s going to happen?” said Lakeema Remo, 23.
“I stay in the house. Who wants to go out and not know what’s going to happen?” she added.
Several protesters, including Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, were arrested and police dragged away at least two reporters covering the protests.
A spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department could not immediately comment on the officer waving a weapon, but said via email that 102 individuals were arrested Saturday night. Most were charged with obstruction of a highway. Other charges included disturbing the peace, resisting and inciting a riot.
Earlier Saturday, North Baton Rouge community members gathered peacefully under a blazing sun in the Triple S Food Mart parking lot where Sterling was killed. They said they came seeking solutions and to mourn Sterling, who was a fixture in the neighborhood and was often seen outside the store.
Tamia Hawkins,16, is one of several young people in the neighborhood who is skeptical that the officers who killed Sterling will be held accountable.
“Because they took somebody’s father, somebody’s brother, somebody cousin, somebody uncle, I think death is the best solution.”
Later in the day, as the night sky was filled with flashing blue lights, sirens and the sounds of honking horns, those sentiments were echoed by Jones.
“I think that justice needs to be served by the police officers that took the man’s life,” he said, still upset over what he said was heavy-handed treatment of protesters by police.
“We need to put an end to this. They need to stop the killing of our people.”