Local Organizing Groups, NOWCRJ, ACLU of Louisiana Sue Baton Rouge Police for First Amendment Violations at Alton Sterling Protest

BATON ROUGE, LA, July 13, 2016—Local organizing groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed a lawsuit today against the Baton Rouge Police Department for violating the First Amendment rights of demonstrators who were protesting peacefully against the killing of Alton Sterling. The case is co-counseled by Candice Sirmon, ACLU Foundation of Louisiana; Ron Wilson, ACLU Foundation Cooperating Attorney; and Sima Atri, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.

The lawsuit alleges that the police used excessive force, physical and verbal abuse, and wrongful arrests to disperse protestors who were gathered peacefully to speak out against the police killing of Alton Sterling. Eyewitness accounts recorded by plaintiffs in the suit show police in full riot gear with assault rifles, lunging and grabbing at peacefully assembled people and throwing them to the ground.

“[The police response] made me afraid to protest,” said Crystal Williams, local resident and organizer with North Baton Rouge Matters. “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. I feel like speech is my most powerful tool to ensure my community and my family are safe. But now I feel totally silenced.”

Alison Renee McCrary, Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild President and a Catholic nun, said: “I witnessed firsthand as peaceful protestors 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. What I saw happening was an immediate threat to life. My and other demonstrators’ speech was chilled because of this event.”

Counsel also filed for a temporary restraining order against the defendants to prevent them from interfering with people’s constitutionally protected right to gather peacefully moving forward.

“The police didn’t do their job in Baton Rouge, again,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman. “They are bound to protect us from harm, to keep us safe, to do everything possible before throwing someone to the ground or pulling the trigger. Yet Alton Sterling is on the long list of Black people killed needlessly by our nation’s police, and protests in his honor have turned into circuses of violence where the First Amendment is tossed aside. We can’t bring Alton Sterling back, but at minimum, the police can stop blocking our right to protest in his name.”

Lawsuit filings online:

CONTACTS:

Marjorie Esman, ACLU of Louisiana, 504-522-0628, mesman@laaclu.org
Allison Steinberg, ACLU, 212-549-2540, asteinberg@aclu.org
Sima Atri, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, 504-264-4209, satri@nowcrj.org
Community organizers and leaders: Shaena Johnson (504-320-4591) and Crystal Williams (713-446-3783) Charles Joyner (504-881-6550)