Previously Unpublished Video Shows Baton Rouge Police Faceoff From Protester’s POV

By Yessenia Funes Jul 12, 2016

It’s been almost a week since Baton Rouge police officer Blane Salamoni was caught on camera fatally shooting Alton Sterling as he and another officer, Howie Lake II, had the CD salesman pinned to the ground. And it’s been three days since a mass of police in riot gear descended on a group of protestors on Baton Rouge’s Government Street chanting, "Police are violent. We will not be silent."

Accounts of how police dispersed protestors vary widely. Police Sergeant Don Coppola said in an interview that protestors were planning to swarm a nearby on-ramp of Interstate 110. But Samia Lalani, a New Orleans organizer who attended the march and recorded a portion of it on Facebook Live, says protestors had no intention of entering the highway. 

"I have no idea where they even got that from actually,” says the 23-year-old who goes by the pronoun "they." "We were just trying to keep marching on [Government Street], not trying to go on the highway.”

Coppola tells Colorlines that at one point the demonstrators threw large rocks, bottles of frozen water and trash cans at officers. Lalani, who was at the frontlines, says they saw nothing of the sort.

And according to Coppola, there were no injuries reported, among police or protestors. Lalani says they saw "officers putting their hands over protestors’ faces" and slamming their heads onto the concrete. 

By the end of the night, 50 protestors—many from New Orleans but some from as far away as New York City and Washington, D.C.—landed behind bars on charges such as obstruction of a roadway and resisting arrest. Only two, Joshua Williams and James Campbell from Baton Rouge, remain in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison as of July 12, according to Casey Hicks, the prison’s public information director.

Below is a 20-minute Facebook Live video Lalani recorded of the protest around 6:15 p.m. CST with major moments highlighted. It’s a striking reminder that vantage point matters. 

At start – A Special Response vehicle called a Bearcat emits an ear-splitting siren to disperse protestors. Lalani says the group had marched from the capitol building to East Boulevard and Government Street. Police blocked their path and corralled them onto residential France Street.

2:36 – On France street, officers donned in black or green riot gear tell the crowd that it must disperse or face arrest. "This is the only warning you will receive," an officer says over a speaker.

4:32 – Police approach protestors and begin making arrests. Lalani moves away, blurring the footage, but protestors can be heard yelling, "Oh sh–!" then chanting, "Let him go!"

5:16 – After about a minute of protestors demanding police to release the man, they called White allies to the front, a tactic organizers use because they believe that police are are less likely to harass, beat, shoot or arrest White people. Protestors, says Lalani, were equally divided between Black and White, with a few Latinx and Asian-Americans sprinkled throughout. 

6:30 – Two officers can be seen pinning down and arresting a Black male protestor.  Lalani runs toward the confrontation as she and other protestors demand that officers let him go.

8:15 – After officers take away the man, protestors brace for tear gas. They cover their faces with shirts, bandanas, masks and whatever else is available. "Cover your faces!" a marcher warns. Police did not ultimately use tear gas. 

10:15 – The Baton Rouge Police Department begin an intense standoff with protestors. Officers are on one side of the street; protestors are on the other.

15:18 – Two protestors can be heard calling out an officer who they perceive to be laughing. A man yells: "Oh, look at him. It’s funny to the guy in the back until you die." Another follows: "Let us hear your jokes, dawg. I like jokes. I love ’em."

17:17 – Addressing Black police officers across the street, protestors chant, "You are not your uniform!" Officers remain stoic.

18:20 – As the video ends, protestors chant: "Hands up! Don’t shoot!" Near the end, they add in, "Don’t shoot, you bunch of cowards!"