Three young men were arrested on Tuesday and a fourth is the object of a manhunt in Baton Rouge, La., in connection with what city authorities call a “substantial, credible threat” to harm police officers with stolen guns. The arrests come after a week of confusion and protests following the fatal police shootings of two black men and a deadly sniper attack on police officers in Dallas, Texas.
At a press conference, Baton Rouge police chief Carl Dabadie said the alleged plot was discovered when police responded to a burglary at a pawn shop on Saturday morning. The first suspect to be arrested told police that the burglary was being carried out “to harm police officers,” without giving details as to where or how, Dabadie said.
Surveillance video showed the suspects using a ladder to climb onto the roof of the shop and break in, police said in a statement. Eight handguns and one BB gun were missing from the store.
Authorities said that Antonio Thomas was arrested at the scene with a handgun and a BB gun, while Malik Bridgewater was arrested on Sunday at his home, where they recovered three of the stolen handguns. According to Dabadie, Thomas told investigators that he and three others had sought bullets to shoot police, as CNN reported. The third person under arrest is a 13-year-old boy. The three face charges that include burglary and theft of a firearm, but not plotting to kill a police officer.
These arrests come only days after a gunman killed five officers in Dallas, dissolving a peaceful demonstration over the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling. The Texas killings, whose suspect has been identified as an online supporter of extremist black power groups, have complicated the efforts of Black Lives Matter protesters, whose movement seemed to be gaining sway following the release of two videos showing black men shot to death in encounters with police in the past week.
After the Dallas attack, police departments around the country went on guard, with larger departments taking extra security measures such as pairing up officers out on patrol.
Earlier this year, Louisiana’s Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed a law that added police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical responders to the list of classes protected by state-level hate crime statutes. In doing so, Louisiana became the only state in the country to include a job vocation on that list, angering critics who said the protections were intended for immutable characteristics like race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Many police-brutality activists see competing movements, like those organized around the slogan “Blue Lives Matter,” as little more than an attempt to silence them, as The Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson reported in May:
Yet a litany of video evidence of instances where police seemingly fail to show people basic human dignity has given the impression to some that there is a greater rot within the law enforcement community – where, to activists, they more resemble armed militia groups protecting a powerful status quo instead of acting as public servants charged with protecting and serving everyone equally.
This report contains material by the Associated Press.