The Police in Baton Rouge Don’t Like It When Protesters Exercise Their Rights, So We’re Taking Them to Court

Since our very founding, the American people have taken to the streets and sidewalks to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, this week it’s the residents of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who have good reason to partake in this historical tradition. On July 5, 2016, a Black Baton Rouge resident named Alton Sterling — a man who had committed no crime — was tackled, Tasered, incapacitated, and fatally shot at point blank range by two white Baton Rouge police officers.

The anger at Mr. Sterling’s death is immense. It is real. It is justified. And it deserves a voice.

So in our grand American tradition, residents sought to make their voices heard, to speak truth to power about police use of force, to object to the death of Black men in police custody, and to say that Black lives matter. To do this, they spilled out onto the city’s streets and sidewalks — the very places which the Supreme Court has described as having “immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public” as the place to exercise our constitutional liberties.

But it doesn’t appear that the law enforcement agencies in Baton Rouge care much for our Constitution, or for the liberties of its own citizens. Instead officers have shown naked hostility to the constitutional rights of the citizens they have a duty to serve. That’s why today the ACLU of Louisiana is going to court on behalf of community organizations like Black Youth Power 100 New Orleans, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, and Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild to seek an emergency order to ensure that the police in Baton Rouge obey the Constitution. It’s not the first time an ACLU affiliate has stepped up to challenge the cops reacting to protests over police accountability — and while I hope it’s the last, it won’t be.

Constitutional rights — particularly that very First Amendment — are pretty robust, on paper. But as Black citizens of America know, for far too much of our history so many of those “rights” have had invisible whites-only asterisks attached. What’s new about modern protest is that our First Amendment rights are now often exercised on videotape, as are law enforcement’s reactions to speech and protest. And the livestreams coming out of Baton Rouge this week should cause grave concern. And recognition that we still have hard work to do translating those parchment rights to the streets.

Citizens peaceably exercising their rights to free speech and assembly have been met by police dressed in full riot or paramilitary gear. They have received confusing and conflicting demands from law enforcement officers, spoken through Darth Vader-style gas masks that make their commands barely audible. They have been arrested — or threatened with arrest — for peaceably gathering in public spaces, and these arrests have been effected with unnecessary and excessive physical force. Even journalists have found themselves spending time in Baton Rouge’s jail cells, just for monitoring the police response to the protests.

As this harrowing livestream shows, first the police told protesters to get off the street. So protesters went to the sidewalks. Then they were told to get off the sidewalks — and a private property owner offered refuge. So the cops told people the assembly was no longer lawful, and they’d be arrested. Where, exactly, do government officials expect their citizens to protest? It’s looking, unfortunately, like the answer is “nowhere.”

In short, law officers on the ground in Baton Rouge have done nothing to facilitate the constitutional rights to which they have each sworn an oath. Instead, they have met words with weapons, peace with violence. They have continually escalated a nonviolent protest into a full-scale conflict between the citizens and the police.

And it’s not okay.

Which is why we’re asking the federal courts to step in and ensure that our lofty constitutional rights are enforced on the ground — where they count. 

View comments (47)
Read the Terms of Use

Bryan

Thank you ACLU for all you have done and all you continue to do on behalf of those struggling for a voice...and to be heard.

Anonymous

>Alton Sterling — a man who had committed no crime

Except for all the countless crimes he did commit, and was committing during his attempted arrest.

The ACLU was once a proud organization but now it's run by communists.

Anonymous

Outstanding. I'm surprised the ACLU even let you get away with saying that. Because for as much about "free speech" as they claim they are, they keep blocking any of my comments that show any dissent to their cultural Marxism.

Sterling and Castile committed suicide by cop. No apologies or sorrow is necessary, unless it's from the BLM terrorist movement. They should be apologizing all day for how they conduct themselves.

Scott

So that excuses murder?

Anonymous

You should use your head for something more than a hat rack.

Anonymous

THANK YOU !!! I was thinking the same thing myself ! Why do we need police, or laws, or judges, or courts, or a CONSTITUTION, for that matter? We have the ACLU to tell us who is guilty or innocent !

Damon

The issue is not Alton Sterling because citizens have the right to protest about anything. The issue is that the BRPD treated those people like they were loose animals and made countless unlawful arrests on private property. This is not how a police force acts when given this type of situation; it's unconstitutional and completely unacceptable. The ACLU is doing the right thing.

Anonymous

Oh that's a sharp comment.

His other crimes he committed had already been dealt with. And I doubt you ever liked the ACLU. You will like them when they come to defend your own rights.

Paul Myartist

I think it is time the citizens of our country hold rally and protest members (especially those that organize the rallies) accountable for any and all loss of life during or due to their protests. They should also be held accountable for the increased financial burden it costs the cities to hire extra police to protect the protesters. As it stands now, protesters are protesting against the very people that are protecting them during their rallies. When things get out of hand, they just walk away and go home leaving the police to clean up the mess. Even in the midst of on going tragedies like July 7 in Dallas, there were protesters screaming at police and bullying the police that are doing their best to protect the innocent by standers and non protestors.

Free speech is anything but free when our tax dollars are spent providing a police presence to protect people that don’t do their part to pay for their imposition on everyone around them during their protests. Closed streets, businesses loose money because customers avoid or are routed around the protesters etc.

Everyone wants accountability, but as I see it, the protestors are not being held accountable for the fall out of their protests. At minimum, those that organize and sponsor such rallies and protests should have a financial stake in the process. When police officers or by standers are wounded or killed because the protest took place, the protesters and organizers need to be accountable. Real commitment for a cause requires real accountability. After all, accountability is exactly what they are demanding in their protests.

Thanks for listening

Anonymous

I was in Dallas the day five police officers tragically lost their lives. I watched from my hotel room as protesters (families, children) parked, payed the parking attendants and peacefully gathered and marched. I watched police taking pictures with protesters as the police rode bicycles and walked along side protesters. I watched the embedded reporters comment repeatedly about how peaceful and respectful the protesters were on the local news. Protesters were carrying signs that said, 'stop the violence' or 'Justice for (names). It is UBSURD to associate the actions of a deranged man with the protesters. I do agree with you that people should be accountability if they incite violence towards another person though. For example, Sarah Palin's 'hit list' during the last presidential election in which she places opponents pictures behind the crosshairs of a gun urging people to 'stop them at all costs' and "'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!. Congresswoman Giffords, and others were gunned down at her first public appearance after being put on that list. What should Palin's accountability be? With your line of thinking you must also hold Carly Fiorina, Rick Perry and Paul Rand accountable for repeatedly and falsely claiming that the bogus Planned Parenthood was factual which lead to a deranged man murdering a police officer as well as others to stop 'the baby parts'. And how about Rep Joe Walsh who made the statement "Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you." You must require real accountability for that statement. Read Lee Stranahan's, with Breitbart News, account of his incarceration in Baton Rouge.

Pages

Stay Informed