Police leave a protest site after moving in and making arrests on Saturday in Baton Rouge. (Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Police in Baton Rouge late Saturday arrested DeRay McKesson, one of the most visible faces of the Black Lives Matter movement, during one of a series of protests over the recent fatal shootings of black men. As many as 200 people were reported arrested on a night of tension and unrest.
Throughout the nation, demonstrators on Saturday demanded accountability from police. The protests stretched into early Sunday in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, where tensions are most raw after the deaths of Alton Sterling in the Louisiana city and of Philando Castile in a St. Paul suburb.
A fellow activist and colleague of McKesson’s in Baton Rouge said in a Twitter message that 100 people were arrested in the city. There was no immediate confirmation from authorities.
A late night sit-in on a Minnesota highway broke up after smoke bombs and flash-bang grenades were used by officers, who had rocks and water bottles thrown at them. During the confrontation, five officers suffered minor injuries — including one struck in the head with a large piece of concrete, a St. Paul Police Department spokesman tweeted. He later told the Star Tribune newspaper that roughly 50 people were arrested during that incident and 50 more later in the night.
The approximately 50 people arrested during the melee could be charged with rioting, the spokesman told The Washington Post. The others, detained at a different location, were cited for public nuisance and unlawful assembly and released, he said.
Shortly before 10 p.m. local time Saturday, someone had shot at the San Antonio Police Department headquarters. No one was injured, but police leaders were anxious given the slayings of five officers in Dallas on Thursday by a gunman who, police say, was enraged by the deaths of black people at the hands of police officers.
There was no similar violence on Saturday or widespread unrest like what occurred after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in Baltimore and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. But demonstrations were punctuated with tense confrontations.
Members of the New Black Panther Party came face-to-face with Louisiana state troopers outside a police headquarters earlier in the day. At night, police took dozens of activists in Baton Rouge into custody, including McKesson.
McKesson, who lives in Baltimore, documented protests in Baton Rouge on Saturday, the same day as his 31st birthday. He narrated the events surrounding him on Periscope, criticizing Baton Rouge police for what he saw as a heavy-handed response against peaceful protesters. And did the same in frequent postings on Twitter and Vine.
As he and other activists marched through one of Baton Rouge’s busiest highways that passes the police headquarters, McKesson assailed police for provoking people after an officer threatened to arrest anyone walking on the road, according to video obtained by The Washington Post. Another high profile activist fired back that they were on the shoulder because there was no sidewalk.
Later, officers approached McKesson. The smartphone he was using to broadcast the march and his ongoing commentary fell from his hands as he was arrested.
According to other activists, two police officers slammed McKesson to the ground and took him into custody along with 33 other activists.
Police arrest activist DeRay McKesson during a protest along Airline Highway, a major road that passes in front of the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters Saturday in Baton Rouge, La. (Max Becherer/AP)
In a text message to The Post from within police custody, McKesson said he and the nearly three dozen others were in custody together, wrists tied, and being taken to a police precinct. A police spokesman confirmed his arrest to The Advocate newspaper, but did not elaborate on potential charges and did not return a request for comment from the Post.
As Saturday night became Sunday morning, there was no word on what charges McKesson might be facing. But a website for a local jail showed that McKesson was an inmate there as of Sunday. He called a close friend in Baltimore around 5:30 a.m. and told her he was in okay physical condition but did not know when he’d be released, the friend told The Post.
News of McKesson’s arrest quickly spread on Twitter, fueling outrage over the possibility that he may have been deliberately targeted. The hashtag #FreeDeray began to trend almost immediately on Twitter after McKesson’s arrest and was trending with more than 100,000 tweets hours later as of 5 a.m., with many tweets urging people to call Baton Rouge police and demand his release. McKesson was arrested nearly a year ago in August during a sit-in outside a federal courthouse in St. Louis to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Brown’s death.
McKesson rose to national prominence when he left Minneapolis after the death of Brown in Ferguson, Mo., to become an activist and to document the growing movement seeking reforms in how law enforcement across the country treats communities of color. He has amassed roughly 450,000 Twitter followers and has been a forceful advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement on cable and in late-night television appearances.
Earlier this year, McKesson sought to transform from activist to politician by running for Baltimore mayor. But the national spotlight wasn’t enough to endear him to voters there, and he finished far behind well-established political figures in the Democratic primary.
In the quiet period after the plethora of tense standoffs and arrests in Baton Rouge, three young protesters put on thin blue gloves and grabbed large trash bags.
“Last night, when people was running, they were tripping over the water bottles,” said Allyson Leach, 24. “This way if something happens, people will be safe.”
Across from them, police officers formed a human barricade outside police headquarters.
Barely moving. Shields up.
Still, protesters kept coming. They gathered on a swale outside a Shell gas station. They shouted, “No justice, no peace!”and wondered if the police would charge at them again. They carried signs — “I Can’t Keep Calm I Have a Black Son”, one read — and raised their voices to sing “We Shall Overcome” and dropped used water bottles on to the ground.
Leach and her friends were there to pick them up.
“I am working full time, I’m a student and a mother,” added Shelby McKnight, 25. “But I am out here anyway because we need to stand up.”
Both had felt a movement was afoot in Baton Rouge. It was bound to happen, they thought. If it happened in Ferguson and Baltimore, it was bound to happen in this place, too, where the black community had long had tensions with the police force.
On Friday, McKnight recalled looking into one police officer’s eyes. She yelled at him and begged him to speak out for justice. She had no idea what he would do next and got a little scared. Tears welled in her eyes, and the police officer stared back. He too, she said, had started to cry.
“They know,” McKnight said. “They have to know that wrong was done.”
The crowds thinned at midnight, and police officers began filing back into the headquarters.
Others joined to help them pick up trash. They filled 22 bags and three boxes. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” Leach said. “It could get ugly again.”
But for this night, the police had retreated, the songs had died down. And the lawn was left clean.
Earlier in the evening in St. Paul, Philando Castile’s friends, family and relatives from as far as St. Louis assembled in a parking lot at dusk, waiting for the light to fade.
Steps away, along Larpenteur Ave., in Falcon Heights, Castile was pulled over and shot to death during a traffic stop Wednesday, and his girlfriend streamed his dying moments and the officer’s reactions in a widely viewed Facebook Live video. In the days since, a makeshift memorial formed beside the pavement, where the hot sun wilted flowers and melted candle wax into puddles on the concrete sidewalk.
When the sunlight faded, family members lit the remaining candles anew and tied up shiny balloons to memorialize Castile at the place where he died. His sister, Allysza Castile, thanked the group of about 50 who came to pay their respects. They held a moment of silence and prayed to “find justice in his death.”
Protesters link hands on shut down highway I-94 on Saturday in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
About four miles south, hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters led a march from the governor’s mansion onto a busy interstate, snarling traffic in both directions. The response from law enforcement was swift. What started as a peaceful demonstration during the course of the next six hours escalated into a tense and at times violent stand-off with police ready in riot gear.
The marchers moved slowly along the highway. Many of the marchers bounced to Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels and N.W.A pumping through loudspeakers. They sat into the late hours of the evening.
“This is Black Lives Matter, and we are exercising our First Amendment right to protest,” one activist said.
At one point, the crowd inched toward a line of officers in gas masks and holding batons. Officers responded with smoke grenades, flash bangs and, in a number of instances, jets of pepper spray. Protesters countered by throwing plastic bottles of water, hunks of concrete and rocks.
At last, officers soon surrounded the marchers. Police detained demonstrators as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” played on the sound system.
The tenor’s soothing voice called out into the restless night:
“Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on.”
William Branigin, Ashley Cusick, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Mark Berman contributed to this report.
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