The protests that have roiled Baton Rouge since police there killed Alton Sterling on Tuesday spread to New Orleans on Friday, sending hundreds of people onto the streets in Mid-City, Central City and the Central Business District.
As demonstrators railed against police violence and linked Sterling’s death to the killing of a New Orleans man by Jefferson Parish deputies in February, meanwhile, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he supported the protests while he deplored the deaths of five Dallas police officers Thursday night.
The largest protest started at 6 p.m. at the site of the most controversial recent police killing in New Orleans. Hundreds gathered at the spot in Central City where 22-year-old Eric Harris was shot by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies after a chase across the Crescent City Connection on the night of Feb. 8.
The crowd swelled into the streets, then marched to Lee Circle to connect the deaths of Harris and Sterling to a larger pattern of police killings of black people.
Dozens of protesters then stood in front of the circle’s monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee with a giant “Black Lives Matter” banner unfurled in front of them.
The family of Harris were the honored guests of the night, as was Harris’ girlfriend Tyshara Blouin. They said little to the crowd, preferring to walk, chant and wave signs.
“We stand here today to remind ourselves that — to every brother and sister who New Orleans stands in solidarity with — New Orleans has already been there and done that,” organizer and activist Angela Kinlaw said, referencing Harris’ death.
Hundreds gathered all day Wednesday at the Triple S Food Mart, the site where a Baton Rouge …
Earlier in the day, protests took place at Police Department headquarters, where dozens staged a symbolic “die-in,” and before that inside the Mid-City building that houses a Whole Foods grocery store, where dozens more stood in a circle reading the names of black men killed by police in 2016.
The 136 names were repeated over and over again in a solemn incantation.
Staff members at Liberty’s Kitchen, a Mid-City nonprofit that trains at-risk youth in the culinary arts, organized the reading.
“We just felt the need to do something,” said Devon Turner, 37, a youth leadership program coordinator for Liberty’s Kitchen. “Every murder is traumatic, and we haven’t had time and space to grieve.”
Turner’s eyes were too red with tears to notice when Landrieu entered the building and stood to one side of the circle, quietly reading the names along with people who joined in on their way to buy groceries.
Landrieu said he attended the event to show unity and because “the country’s hurting.” He cited the killing of black men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota as well as the fatal shooting Thursday night of five Dallas police officers.
All of those events, Landrieu said, are part of America’s “culture of violence.”
“We’ve had just way too much violence on both sides of the line, and we want to make sure that we don’t divide people into both sides,” he said.
Immediately after the memorial, Landrieu traveled to Police Department headquarters, where he was briefed on any potential threats to law enforcement officers in the region in the wake of the Dallas massacre.
The deaths of the five officers marked the bloodiest day for U.S. law enforcement since Sept. 11, 2001, and for some New Orleanians they brought to mind the 11-hour terror campaign of Mark Essex, the Howard Johnson hotel sniper who killed seven people, including three police officers, and wounded numerous others on a January Sunday in 1973.
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Seeking to soothe anxious residents, Landrieu encouraged locals who planned to protest the nationally publicized shootings to do so peacefully.
“We can say, with great comfort, that anybody who wants to protest is able to do it,” Landrieu said outside police headquarters.
He expressed confidence in the police force’s ability to protect residents, and he reminded residents of what he said were strides New Orleans police have made in recent years in community engagement.
“I am fully confident that the New Orleans Police Department will demonstrate to the city of New Orleans and to America what good police-community relationships look like,” he said.
Some in the crowds Friday echoed Landrieu’s sentiments about the country’s overall culture of violence.
When 16-year-old Roderick Gordon was killed walking through an Iberville public housing complex courtyard in 2009, his aunt was by his side. The woman, who asked to be identified only by her nickname “Jolie” for fear of retribution, attended the “die-in” protest outside police headquarters, which was blocked off with a wall of barricades.
She said the cellphone video of Sterling’s death sent memories of her personal tragedy crashing back. “That literally tore chills from out of my body,” she said.
Her own experience with murder, she said, made her feel for the families of the officers killed in Dallas.
“Doing something like that, there will never be peace,” Jolie said.
But tensions ran high among some protesters. Longtime community activist Malcolm Suber, who is affiliated with the Take Em Down NOLA Coalition calling for the removal of Confederate monuments, struck a less conciliatory tone.
Suber said he would not condemn the Dallas killings or the killings of New Orleans police officers in 1973 by Essex.
“We don’t like people to be killed for no reason, but we understand the reason,” Suber said.
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