BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Law enforcement officers and elected officials are putting out the message that they support possible peaceful demonstrations following the federal decision in the Alton Sterling shooting, but they will also do everything in their power to ensure safety for protesters, police officers, and the general public.
Intense protests erupted across Baton Rouge nearly a year ago after the deadly encounter between Alton Sterling and two Baton Rouge Police officers.
Scenes from that time, including trash cans being thrown at police, officers in heavy riot gear, and several moments of high tension resulted in hundreds of arrests, and what some called an "excessive response" by law enforcement.
"As I urge people to keep calm and keep the peace of the parish, this does not have to mean that we are satisfied with the status quo," said EBR Mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome.
In the wake of the federal announcement Wednesday that the two BRPD officers involved would not face federal charges, more demonstrations are possible and Baton Rouge police say their enforcement this year will look much different, but with safety remaining a top priority.
"That's our main objective is to keep the public safe and keep the protesters safe," said public information commnader for BRPD, Jonny Dunnam.
Dunnam points to a legal agreement reached with demonstrators last November, establishing certain guidelines for how police will deal with peaceful gatherings. Going forward, police agree to only take action against demonstrators if they block an open roadway, damage property, or engage in violence.
"The guidelines that we have I think are fair and we want to make sure that we help promote and maintain peace during any protests or demonstrations that we have," said Dunnam.
"We all have the right to give voice and visibility to our concerns and frustrations," said Governor John Bel Edwards.
Edwards was firm Wednesday in his stance on possible demonstrations at a joint news conference with Broome, encouraging people to exercise their first amendment rights while reminding them of where those rights end. "Nobody has the right to engage in unlawful behavior, particularly in violent behavior or to engage in property destruction because that endangers the lives of everyone involved," said Edwards.
While protests have the support of law enforcement and elected officials, organizers are encouraged to reach out to police to allow those gatherings a peaceful outcome, start to finish.
"We're going to make sure we have resources available to assist in any marches or any protests. We just kind of need a heads up so that we can get the man power needed to make sure that everybody stays safe," said Dunnam.
Anyone interested in organizing a peaceful protest or march where they wish to shut down a portion of a roadway is encouraged to contact the BRPD Traffic Division at 225-389-3874.
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