Kudos both to NOPD and the protesters for keeping it real — and respectful.
Last week's protests in New Orleans and Baton Rouge over the death of Alton Sterling, the man who was shot to death by Baton Rouge cops, were a study in contrasts. In New Orleans, thousands gathered at Lee Circle July 8 for a peaceful protest, holding hands, hugging and listening to speeches. It later marched down St. Charles Avenue, with New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) cops — who were mourning five of their own killed in Dallas the night before — blocking off streets and providing protection. A "die-in" earlier in the day outside NOPD headquarters also drew cameras, but no trouble.
Two subsequent marches on July 10 brought home the message of putting an end to violence: one a "memorial second line" down St. Claude Avenue, the other a prayer vigil outside the Superdome that was attended by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Chief Michael Harrison. Kudos both to NOPD and the protesters for keeping it real — and respectful.
Compare that to the images coming out of Baton Rouge, where hundreds of people were arrested, including at least three journalists who were chronicling the protests. Many officers wore riot gear and brandished military rifles. An armored tank and a high-intensity siren were used to keep the largely peaceful protesters at bay. One officer had several teeth knocked out by a projectile thrown by someone in the crowd, according to the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD), but that seemed to be the extent of serious police injury. Most of those arrested were charged with blocking a roadway.
Lt. Gen. Russel Honore criticized the police tactics in Baton Rouge — as did Breitbart News reporter Lee Stranahan, a frequent critic of Black Lives Matter who spent much of the weekend in the Baton Rouge jail. While Stranahan predictably blamed "a state that's run by a Democrat governor ... and a city run by a black Democrat mayor," he also called it "an increasingly chaotic situation with no open lines of communication between police and protesters." He characterized his stay in jail as a "drawn-out process that seemed designed to intimidate people, not deliver proper justice."
Many rightly wondered where Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden was during those tense days. Holden, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond for the 2nd Congressional District seat in this fall's election, appeared at a press conference after the Sterling shooting and called for a U.S. Department of Justice inquiry — then left town. When he returned, Holden ducked the furor of the weekend's protests. His explanation, as told to the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report: "Why should I put my hand in a hornets' nest?" Holden also said he didn't want to "showboat," but this isn't about political posturing. It's about leadership — and Holden's lack of it.
New Orleans often is criticized for what it doesn't get right, but everyone involved in last week's protests in the city — from the protesters to the cops, from the mayor to the police chief — got this one right.