BATON ROUGE – The Baton Rouge Metro Council approved a settlement recently with Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson and other police protesters totaling approximately $100,000. The settlement comes after more than 200 people were arrested during protests after the July 5 shooting death of Alton Sterling, an unarmed black man, by Baton Rouge police.
The Advocate reports that the settlement cost will be spread across four agencies: the city government, the Louisiana State Police, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office and the district attorney’s office. The terms of the federal class-action lawsuit are that none of the agencies will pay more than $25,000.
Loyola University New Orleans law professor Bill Quigley, who is an expert on civil disobedience, said the settlement is good news for those who demonstrate against police actions.
“Anytime government pays money out for its mistakes is a good day," Quigley told the Louisana Record. "I think the payments for mistaken arrests will help reduce the number of those arrests in the future."
Sterling's death thrust the city into the national spotlight with days of unrest, protests and rioting occurring after the deaths of three officers in Baton Rouge and five in Dallas. Both incidents involving the officers’ deaths were by lone black gunmen. McKesson, who is from Baltimore, and other protesters from across the country traveled to Baton Rouge in the wake of Sterling’s death and another officer-involved shooting of a black man in Minnesota. It’s a trend that Metro Councilman John Delgado, who voted against the deal, says will continue if not stopped.
"To me, this encourages that type of behavior to happen in the future," Delgado told The Advocate. "I have no interest in paying $100,000 in taxpayer dollars to people who are coming into our city to protest."
The lawsuit, filed nearly one month after the protests on Aug. 4, said the police pointed weapons directly at the protesters while riding in armored vehicles and wearing riot gear. The protesters also allege in their lawsuit that the police’s aggressive tactics and militarized response were in reaction to what were peaceful demonstrations. The 97 plaintiffs in the lawsuit said they felt their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly were violated.
“The settlement reaffirms that people have the right to protest and that police have to respect that right under our system of law,” Quigley said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has defended the response by police in the past. However, in an effort to improve the relationship between the community and police, WWL-TV reported that Edwards held a meeting with local clergy, community activists and law enforcement officials to discuss best practices and ways to build a better relationship between the two groups.
There are many who worry about that relationship, Quigley said, especially since the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into Sterling’s death is still pending. People expect more protests if the officers are not charged with a crime; however, Quigley said the settlement may mean good news for those who may protest again.
“Since the federal government and the local prosecutor have not yet made their decisions on whether to prosecute the officers who killed Mr. Sterling, most people assume further protests are coming. This settlement will hopefully deter wrongful arrests in future protests,” Quigley said.