New Orleans police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of protesters who tried to cross the Crescent City Connection late Wednesday after what had been several days of peaceful protests in the city triggered by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Around 9:30 pm, a large crowd of protesters began to walk up the Camp Street to the path leading west to the bridge over the Mississippi River. However, police vehicles blocked the actual CCC distance, and the demonstrators were stopped on the elevated Pontchartrain Expressway, holding signs and chanting under the orange lights of the street lights.
About an hour later, police fired tear gas canisters which swept across the front of the crowd.
Maria Singer said she was behind the crowd on the bridge when she heard cries through the crowd for “white allies ahead!” He could not see what was happening near the front of the dispute with the police. Suddenly there was gas being deployed and the people around him began to panic.
“I am not afraid of tear gas because I invade people,” he said. Singer was not exposed to gas, but several of his friends. .
Just before the police released the gas, a crowd of several hundred protesters had moved close to the police line. Almost all acted peacefully, shouting songs or talking directly to the officers, although some protesters were more aggressive and started pushing into the police line before the police fired gas.
A number of demonstrators later complained that they did not hear warnings from police before tear gas was used. New Orleans police said in a statement that tear gas was used “to disperse the protesters after the crowd refused to obey three orders not to try to walk on the” bridge.
After that, the committee and others begged the crowd to “step back, step back” and “come back tomorrow, with glasses.” Most of the demonstrators moved off the bridge around 10:45, but smaller groups seemed determined to stay.
Around 11 pm, New Orleans police used a loudspeaker to give the demonstrators a final warning to leave the bridge and officers began to move towards the remaining demonstrators, who finally decided to retreat from the bridge. Some stopped to vomit from tear gas as they descended.
In a statement late Wednesday night, the New Orleans police said, “escalation and confrontation hurt all of us. NOPD is committed to respectfully protecting the rights of our residents’ First Amendment. However, tonight we are forced to use gas in CCC in response to increasing, “physical confrontation with our officers. “
A police spokesman told reporters that there were no arrests of protesters and no rubber bullets or other projectiles were fired.
The chaotic scene on the Pontchartrain Expressway stood in stark contrast to the night before, when protesters peacefully closed part of Interstate 10 high near Canal Street for more than two hours. At one point Tuesday, New Orleans police officers knelt in solidarity with the demonstrators. Although a line of police wearing riot clothing also blocked Interstate 10, they never clashed with protesters and the crowd finally lined up on the Orleans Avenue exit.
Wednesday’s march and highway closure culminated in a one-night demonstration against racism and police brutality, part of a wave of national outrage fueled by Memorial Day’s murder of Floyd, an unarmed black man who was held with his knees around his neck for more than an hour. eight minutes. The murder was recorded on video.
At one point, traffic at CCC seemed to be closed in both directions. But traffic heading to the east bank seems to be moving again around 10 pm. Traffic to the west remained stalled. Police helicopters pass repeatedly overhead.
Late Wednesday night, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell tweeted a message urging the protesters to leave.
“We want you to be heard. We want you to be safe. We must hold on to what has made us protest so far, restraint and respect. None of us wants this to improve. The only way out is through and we will pass this together. Please, go home, be safe. “
The march in New Orleans on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and again on Wednesday attracted more than a thousand demonstrators. Demonstrators have shouted the name of Floyd and carried signs demanding justice for his death.
As in previous nights, a large crowd gathered at Duncan Plaza near New Orleans City Hall to make a speech before starting to move. The crowd at Wednesday’s demonstration seemed consistent with the night before.
When demonstrators marched on Wednesday night, several New Orleans Saints damned quarterbacks Drew Brees, who earlier Wednesday drew criticism from at least one teammate – and many on social media – after commenting that he “would not agree with anyone” who protested during National anthem. Several NFL players knelt during the national anthem to protest systemic racism and police brutality again, especially former 49ers midfielder Colin Kaepernick.
The police apparently gave the demonstrators a large place as they marched along Poydras and St. Charles and Jackson.
Willie Marsalis, who volunteered as a youth mentor with a church in Hollygrove, was among those gathered at Duncan Plaza.
“It’s hard to be an African-American man in America,” said Marsalis, who lost his job because of the coronavirus pandemic. “I wouldn’t feel right sitting at home when that could happen to me.”
People who turned to protest in New Orleans have not limited their anger to Floyd’s death, who was captured in a disturbing video showing a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pointing his knee to Floyd’s neck when the 46-year-old black man lay face down on the road, panting and repeating, “I can’t breathe,” when people nearby beg the police.
They have also pointed to a pervasive racial profile by the police, rooted in problems in the criminal justice system that disproportionately affect black citizens and deep economic inequality.
Marsalis, for example, described a traumatic meeting with police in New Orleans last year on a trip to a restaurant. He was handcuffed but not arrested. “It’s kind of a cliche, but I’m really George Floyd,” he said, when he saw the speaker talking to the crowd.
Protesters carry signs bearing the names of other blacks whose deaths in recent years have sparked protests – including Alton Sterling, who was fatally shot by Baton Rouge police in July 2016 – but also called for an end to the use of cash, the expulsion of District Prosecutors Orleans-and-order parish Leon Cannizzaro Jr. and ending racism more broadly.
Speakers at the Duncan Plaza meeting demanded more affordable housing, condemned low and stagnant wages, championed the cause of the New Orleans sanitation strike and urged the crowd to “educate, agitate (and) regulate” for radical and fundamental political changes.
Jesse Perkins, a resident of the Gordon Plaza subdivision in the 9th Ward, which was built on a landfill containing toxic materials, spoke to the crowd Wednesday about the environment’s long struggle to get compensation for residents. He said “environmental racism” illustrates the enormous injustice faced by African-Americans in the US.
“Bias biased, racism is racism,” Perkins told the crowd through loudspeakers perched on a hill in a park.
As in previous nights, many of them gathered on Wednesday wearing masks and tried to keep their distance from the others with a nod for widespread precautions aimed at stopping the spread of the corona virus.
Chris Albers from New Orleans said he was worried about the risk, “but I felt I needed to get out and be counted.”
Police brutality, said Albers, “is clearly a recurring problem. There is a history of violence. I think it’s possible to have a truly fair police service that protects everyone. But that won’t happen without attention. “
While the nighttime demonstrations have attracted many people, Kaelon Guillory, a 25-year-old dental student, said support for the protest was far from universal at the Marrero cul de sac. But his parents, while concerned about his safety, supported him out.
“They want me to be home at night, but they understand things don’t change if you stay home,” he said, Wednesday night.
Guillory said part of his drive to get out was the fact that a mentor in the dental field had lost attention to police violence after Hurricane Katrina. Wednesday is the first night in one of the protests. “It is heartwarming to see people from all backgrounds supporting what is right,” he said, looking at the crowd.
Unlike in a number of other cities, where protests have been filled with police with violent clashes and street battles sometimes turn into looting and arson, protests in New Orleans remained largely peaceful until the clash Wednesday night at Crescent City Connection.
On Tuesday night, about a thousand protesters gathered at Duncan Plaza marched to Interstate 10 from Tulane Avenue and closed the highway for more than two hours. Some motorists alighted from their cars to join the protesters, who blocked traffic in both directions.
The protesters then marched about half a mile down the road to the line of New Orleans police officers in anti-riot clothing arranged along the freeway on Orleans Avenue. Officers joined the protesters by kneeling on the sidewalk and the second NOPD commander, John Thomas, voiced his support for the demonstration before handing over his loudspeaker to activists.
“This is not just police brutality that we are protesting right now. It is not just about police brutality,” said a protester who brought Thomas’s microphone to officials across the state Tuesday night. “You’re all the lucky ones who really keep your job during quarantine. We are all scared. We are afraid whether we will be able to pay our bills or not.”
A speaker at the Wednesday demonstration was not impressed with the view on Tuesday night.
“When the police kneel down, I’ll tell you now, bull —-,” said the speaker, Angela Kenlaw.
The protesters, he said, did not work with NOPD to maintain peace. He said the protesters took the road and the NOPD only did “what it should have” by not creating confrontation. “We are not here to ask permission from the police to be here. We are here.”
Ramon staff writer Antonio Vargas and staff photographer Chris Granger contributed to this report.
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