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New Orleans and Baton Rouge: How Two Very Different Protests Played Out

black lives matter

Ferguson may have kicked off the Black Lives Matter movement, but recent events have shown us that it's not the only city whose citizens need change. (Johnny Silvercloud / Flickr)

The first full week of July saw tragedy after tragedy in the US.

- Early Tuesday morning, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was killed by police outside of a convenience store.
- The next day, 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot multiple times by a police officer during a traffic stop for an allegedly broken tail light.
- Then, during a peaceful protest for Sterling and Castile in Dallas on Thursday evening, a sniper attacked and killed five police officers.

It's been a difficult time, to say the very least.

America is hurting. That pain continues to manifest in public as protests against police brutality. With all of the narratives circulating around social media and news outlets, it can be difficult to know exactly what the tone is of these protests, or what protesters themselves are saying. Here's a look at what two of the protests looked like in Louisiana this last weekend -- in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

New Orleans

Three different demonstrations were held in New Orleans on Friday night, though two of them eventually merged.

The smallest protest was staged at the New Orleans police department, where protesters had a "die-in." They lay prone on the ground to simulate the dead bodies of those killed by police this year.

There was no violence of any kind.

The second protest was held in Central City, a neighborhood where 22-year-old Eric Harris was killed by Jefferson Parish police in February after a car chase. After his death, it was alleged that the officers involved didn't act according to protocol, and would have been arrested had they been members of the New Orleans Police Department.

Members of Harris' family were present. They are still waiting, months after his death, to find out if criminal charges will be brought against the officers who shot him. Local leaders -- who ranged from older church leaders to young activists -- struck a balance between honoring Harris' life and encouraging action.

The Central City group held a large banner that read "Black Lives Matter" and marched a mile to Lee Circle, where yet another peaceful demonstration was gathered to protest the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

The two groups merged at Lee Circle (which happens to be the site of a third protest about Confederate monuments in the city) and stayed there for around two hours.

This wasn't a demonstration to bring awareness to the issue of police brutality. Instead, protest leaders urged constructive action after the protest was over -- calling legislators, making positive change in their own communities, and recognizing the social inequities that still persist.

Hundreds of people showed up, eventually leaving the grassy area of Lee Circle and spilling out into the street.

new orleans protest 2

new orleans protest 1

People of all ages and races were present, and an American flag with a peace sign flew overhead.

peace sign flag

Solange Knowles even made an appearance.

Even though the topic of death hung over the protest, the overall atmosphere was hopeful. People sang and shared their contact information for further community action.

Police officers were present for the entirety of the protest, but they mostly stayed around a block away. Protesters and officers rarely crossed paths.

Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge also started off peaceful. But it unfortunately did not end that way.

The protest, which was organized by three Baton Rouge High School students, started at a Methodist church. From there, demonstrators were peacefully escorted by police officers to the State Capitol for a rally.

More than 300 protesters from diverse races came out. After protesters left the Capitol, tensions escalated, though the reason why changes depending on if the story comes from a police officer or a protester.

According to the Baton Rouge police, protesters planned to continue marching down Government St. after leaving the Capitol, which they were not permitted to do. Then, when protesters planned to march onto the interstate, officers say they were forced to strengthen their response. Around 50 people were arrested and all were charged with obstruction of a highway.

Members of the press were also threatened with arrest.

The protesters' story differs. They say they were protesting peacefully on a city road when police showed up in riot gear and threatened to use tear gas if they did not disperse. Lisa Batiste, a Baton Rouge resident, offered her front yard so protesters could congregate on private property instead of the sidewalk or street.

Police came into Batiste's front yard and yanked protesters back out to the street, where they were arrested. Part of the altercation was caught on video:

Police say protesters had already broken the law by trying to get on the interstate and that their location on private property didn't matter. Protesters say police were arresting people at random, regardless of whether they had been previously headed to the interstate or not.

Although the night had started off peaceful with stirrings of hope, most people left angry, frustrated, and feeling as though nothing had changed.

So what?

One weekend, one state, two protests, and two completely different outcomes.

Although protests like the one in Baton Rouge will always receive more coverage -- conflict is inherently more newsworthy than a calm gathering -- that can lead to the perception that every protest turns violent. Similarly, only focusing on drama-free protests like New Orleans ignores the fact that there is still a problem that needs to be addressed.

As people continue to demonstrate publicly across the United States, it can be easy to focus only on the narrative that already fits the ideas you hold. The big picture is usually more complex and nuanced than the boiled down version people are likely to share.

There isn't going to be an easy solution for the United States any time soon. But there are some situations that can offer us a little hope.

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New Orleans and Baton Rouge: How Two Very Different Protests Played Out

Lauren Wethers

Lauren is originally from outside Saint Louis, but traveled down the Mississippi River to be a student at Tulane University, where she is the editor-in-chief of The Tulane Review and director of the New Orleans Universities Relay for Life. She has also written for NOLAWoman.com and Winnovating. One day she’ll figure out how to make the Time Turner real, but until then, she’d like to thank coffee for her success. Follow: @laurenwethers.

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