BATON ROUGE—The Baton Rouge Police Department has a history of heavy-handed tactics and excessive use of force that continues even in its treatment of protesters in the wake of the shooting of Alton Sterling, according to a community activist.
“We continue to see, in the demonstrations taking place throughout the city, heavy-handed police tactics,” Abdul Rashid Muhammad, a minister with the Nation of Islam and co-chair of the Baton Rouge Justice or Else coalition, told the Louisiana Record. “At times they actually provoked the demonstrators and then locked them up. They're all peaceful demonstrators but people are just tired of the tyranny and the oppression. We just can't stand it no more, and that's the point where we are today.”
Wednesday the ACLU announced it was going to sue the BRPD in U.S. District Court for its treatment of protesters, alleging police have arrested protesters for no reason and are causing further rifts in the community.
“They have continually escalated a nonviolent protest into a full-scale conflict between the citizens and the police,” Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the ALCU, wrote in a blog post announcing the suit.
The BRPD has been named as a defendant in federal civil rights lawsuits dozens of times over the past two decades and more, according to U.S. District Court records. Some cases have been settled, others have been dismissed, and others have cost the city tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in jury awards.
For Muhammad, the treatment of protesters is reflective of the way the city’s police force has long treated its African-American residents, and the protests themselves are the right response.
“There has always been a history of brutal force, violence and killing by the police department by our young black males,” Muhammad said. “It's happened throughout history from when I was a young boy up until this day and time. They have always had a history of being heavy-handed and violent, toward our young people especially. So this is nothing new. It just so happened people are fed up. How long can people suffer injustice, tyranny and oppression without there being a response? What we see taking place is an appropriate response to the injustices and the murder of our brother, Alton Sterling.”
Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, a community activist and founder of Stop the Killing Inc., said the police treatment of African-Americans in Baton Rouge hasn’t changed much since the 1960s, and that although there might be temporary reforms, things are essentially the same. Investigations into shootings by police often find them to be justified, he said, and that might have happened in this case, if the video hadn’t spread so quickly.
“If it wasn’t for the video, this would have been another justified shooting by Baton Rouge Police Department,” Reed told the Louisiana Record.
The work of protesters and community members is to bring more attention to the treatment African-Americans have received at the hands of the BRPD, he said.
"They have to be held accountable," he said of the police.
Muhammad and other activists are organizing an economic boycott to put pressure on city leaders to enact reform. The businesses targeted by the boycott include Wal-Mart, Target and the Mall of Louisiana, which is in Baton Rouge, but the list is being added to, he said.
“We don't have any guns to fight [anybody], we're not calling for any violence to be done against any other human being, we are totally against that,” he said. “We think economic withdrawal is the weapon we need, and selected buying campaigns and sustained political boycott is a sufficient enough weapon.”