Demonstrators on Thursday evening marched to the home of East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III to call for accountability in officer-involved shootings.
The protest was the latest following the death of George Floyd, who struggled to breathe while a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for close to nine minutes before he died. While demonstrations across the country have shaken many cities with violence, the gatherings in Baton Rouge have been largely peaceful.
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Thursday's protest, in which police estimated 200 to 300 people participated, was organized by BR for the People, which has organized and participated in several protests in the Baton Rouge area in the last two weeks, most notably four demonstrations on Siegen Lane.
Protest leaders have strongly condemned violent interactions and implored participants to remain peaceful. In the past week, Baton Rouge organizers have met with city officials to discuss their demands, which include police reform, body cameras for law enforcement, and bi-annual mental health evaluations for officers.
Participants gathered Thursday in the parking lot of the Winn-Dixie on Burbank Drive. They soon marched to the nearby Raising Cane's, where they circled the restaurant, waving signs and eventually blocking the driveway to prevent other cars from entering.
Throughout the evening, protesters chanted "No justice, no peace, no racist police," and "Hands up, don't shoot!" Baton Rouge Police officers on motorcycle were stationed across the parking lot and flanked the protest for the duration of the demonstration.
One organizer using a megaphone called on Cane's CEO Todd Graves to make a statement about Black Lives Matter and police brutality, arguing Graves has a good deal of political clout in the state. The organizer reminded the crowd that "silence is violence," which became another chant for those encircling the restaurant. Vehicles driving by honked their approval.
The crowd then began the trek to Moore's home to demand he take action in officer-involved shootings that have taken place in the four years since Alton Sterling's death.
Sterling, a black man, was shot by police outside of a Baton Rouge convenience store in summer of 2016. His death sparked protests in Baton Rouge and across the country. The officers involved in the incident were not charged, a decision made by state Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Thursday's protesters marched to Lee Drive and then Highland Road as the evening progressed, walking two-by-two at first and then growing into a mass, escorted by Baton Rouge Police officers directing traffic. Their march led them to Moore's home in the Plantation Trace subdivision off Highland Road near LSU's campus.
Moore was not at his home during the protest.
"I completely respect their rights and ability to lawfully protest," Moore said in an interview following the demonstration. "Our country was founded on rebellion and protest. I appreciate them being peaceful.”
Participants gathered on the street, careful to avoid the front lawn of the home as they shouted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Hillar Moore has got to go!" Organizers said Moore is responsible for the officers involved in Sterling's death walking free.
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However, Moore recused his office from the Sterling case back in 2016 because of his long professional relationship with the parents of Officer Blane Salamoni, one of the officers involved. More than 20 months after Sterling's death, it was Landry who announced the two officers involved would not be charged.
Organizers also called on Moore to hold law enforcement accountable for the officer-involved shootings since Sterling's death. No law enforcement officials have been charged in any such incident in the past four years, though Moore said several cases are under review by his office.
He said these are cases that "tear communities apart," and as such his office follows the national standards when reviewing them. Some cases are referred to a grand jury, while other cases where charges are not brought against law enforcement are detailed in reports made available to the public.
"We understand the history," Moore said. "That’s why we take these matters so seriously.”
Participants chanted the names of different black people who died at the hands of police, then sat in silence for nine minutes in front of Moore's house before hearing testimonials from those gathered. Organizers also called on participants to vote in the next election and passed out voter registration forms.
"I appreciate them," Moore said. "We know there’s injustice in the system in different communities. We are always open to learn and be a better office."
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Although the protest ended peacefully back in the Winn-Dixie parking lot, there was a tense moment after most of the participants had dispersed.
A protester attempted to intervene when he saw a couple arguing in the parking lot just before 9 p.m., said BRPD spokesperson Sgt. L'Jean McKneely Jr. Someone notified police the boyfriend was armed. When police pulled into the parking lot to investigate, some of the protesters scattered in panic.
Upon questioning and investigation with all parties involved, police determined the boyfriend did not have a gun, McKneely said. No one was taken into custody and the remaining protesters disbanded without further incident.
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Staff reporter Blake Paterson contributed to this report.