BATON ROUGE, La. | Officers with rifles were blocking the ramps to keep protesters off Interstate 10 in downtown Baton Rouge Sunday, and about 130 people have been taken into custody as marches continue over shootings by police.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s “very proud” of the Louisiana law enforcement response to protests over the fatal shooting of a black man by white police officers in the city.
Flanked by law enforcement leaders, Edwards said he doesn’t believe officers have been overly aggressive by using riot gear to push protesters off a highway.
“The police tactics in response have been very moderate. I’m very proud of that,” said the Democratic governor, who comes from a family of sheriffs.
Tensions between black citizens and police have risen palpably over the past week or so amid police shootings of African-American men in Minnesota and Louisiana and the gunning down of five white police officers by a black suspect in Dallas in apparent retaliation.
“I remain disappointed in the Baton Rouge police, who continue to provoke protesters for peacefully protesting. There’s a lot of work to be done, with this police department specifically,” said DeRay Mckesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who embraced supporters Sunday after spending the night in jail.
The Baton Rouge police spokesman, Sgt. Don Coppola, blamed some violence and the large number of arrests on outside agitators. One officer lost teeth to a projectile thrown outside police headquarters, and police also confiscated three rifles, three shotguns and two pistols during that protest, he wrote in an email.
“It appears the protest at Baton Rouge Police Headquarters have become more violent as out of town protesters are arriving,” he said.
But most of those detained live in Louisiana and faced a single charge of obstructing a highway, sheriff’s spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks told The Associated Press.
The tumult reached well beyond Louisiana. In Minnesota, authorities said 21 St. Paul Police officers and six state troopers were hurt and about 100 people were arrested late Saturday and early Sunday during clashes over the police killing of Philando Castile.
There was very little violence by comparison in Baton Rouge.
“I can assure everyone we are hearing the protesters,” the governor said. “We are listening to their voices. But I’m especially gratified that our citizens here in Louisiana, to a very large degree, have decided to protest in a constructive and peaceful manner.”
Edwards said hundreds have marched around the city, with only one injury to an officer and mostly misdemeanor arrests. Protesting peacefully is the best way to honor those killed, he said, adding that authorities won’t allow people “to incite hate and violence.”
“I want to be clear that will not be tolerated. We don’t operate like that in Louisiana,” he said.
The list of those arrested released by the sheriff’s office included two homeless people, and 18 are from out of state, including Mckesson. The vast majority of the Louisiana residents were from the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.
Kira Marrero, 21, of New Orleans, also charged with obstructing a highway, said she did nothing of the sort. “I have no doubt in my mind that I did nothing wrong,” said Marrero, a 2015 graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts
A police affidavit of probable cause says Mckesson “intentionally” placed himself in the road after protesters were repeatedly warned by loudspeaker not to step off the curb.
“During the protest, the defendant entered the roadway and was provided another verbal order to exit the lanes of travel. Moments later, the defendant entered the roadway again and was taken into custody by officers on scene without incident,” the affidavit said.
Activist Brittany Packett, who was with Mckesson, wrote in an email that he was on the highway shoulder when “multiple police crossed onto the shoulder, tackling Deray and arresting him.”
Associated Press photos show police apprehending Mckesson and pulling him to his feet before leading him away with his hands secured behind his back.
Darren Bowers, 26, of Baton Rouge, said his girlfriend, 26-year-old Ariel Bates, called him from the jail early Sunday. “She told me that they jumped all on her and her cousin on the grass. They weren’t on the street or anything,” Bowers said.
He said he believes police are “antagonizing” protesters.
“People are peacefully protesting. Why are (police) in riot gear?” he said.
In Louisiana, Saturday’s demonstration began at the convenience store where 37-year-old Alton Sterling was killed by police, then fanned out through the state Capitol.
Members of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense called for the arrest and indictment of the officers involved in Sterling’s death, shouting “Black Power” and raising their fists. The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation.
“These are human rights violations,” Krystal Muhammad shouted to the crowd at the convenience store before heading over to the police department. “They are not operating as human beings. They are being predators on our communities across America.”
Shouting “No justice! No peace!” roughly 1,000 protesters gathered outside the police department, waving homemade signs as passing cars honked their support.
Those arrested included three journalists — WAFB-TV reporter Chris Slaughter, WWNO public radio reporter Ryan Kailath and Breitbart News reporter Lee Stranahan.
AP reporter Janet McConnaughey contributed from New Orleans.