Baton Rouge agrees to pay Black Lives Matter protesters $100,000

Four agencies, including local and state police, agreed to pay up to $25,000 apiece for a total of about $100,000 to settle a federal class action lawsuit filed by activists arrested while protesting the death of Alton Sterling.

Max Becherer/AP/File
Police arrest activist DeRay McKesson during a protest along Airline Highway in Baton Rouge, La., July 9, 2016. The Baton Rouge Metro Council on Tuesday approved a settlement paying activist Mckesson and other protesters arrested during summer demonstrations over the shooting death of Alton Sterling.

Ninety-two protestors who were arrested last summer while demonstrating after Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, La., will receive financial compensation from local and state authorities, whom the activists accused of excessive force and violating their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

Rather than proceed to trial in a federal class action lawsuit filed by the arrested protestors, the Baton Rouge Metro Council approved a settlement Tuesday, agreeing to have four agencies pay prominent Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson and fellow plaintiffs about $100,000 in total. State police, the sheriff's office, the district attorney, and the city will each pay no more than $25,000 under the terms of the agreement.

"To me, this encourages that type of behavior to happen in the future," said John Delgado, one of the two members on the 12-member council who voted against the settlement, as The Advocate reported. "I have no interest in paying $100,000 in taxpayer dollars to people who are coming into our city to protest."

Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson, however, said the settlement price is much smaller than what the city would be forced to pay if even a single one of the 92 plaintiffs were to prevail in court by proving that they had been wrongfully arrested. Ms. Batson noted, furthermore, that more than 90 percent of the protestors who sued were locals.

Although the local prosecutor had said his office would not try the protestors, the plaintiffs had still been required to post bail, pay administrative fees, and cover court costs in order to be released, according to their lawsuit. Mr. Mckesson, who is based in Baltimore, said in a tweet that the settlement will cover the plaintiffs' arrest-related expenses and automatically wipe the arrest from their record.

Protests erupted in Baton Rouge after officers shot and killed Mr. Sterling, a black man, while they had him pinned to the ground on July 5, fueling outrage over the relationship between city police and people of color, as the Christian Science Monitor's Aidan Quigley reported at the time

Massive protests – and extensive arrests – have become commonplace following high-profile police shootings of black men by police since protesters took to the streets of Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014. The demonstrations have in some cases tapped a raw anger among black communities.

The movement has coalesced around a fierce yet peaceful defiance, a strategy that echoes the tactics employed by civil rights leaders of decades past, who preached nonviolent resistance in the face of physical force and oppression.

While law enforcement's perspective continues to play a major role in the public's understanding of these sorts of confrontations, the presence of cellphone video in Sterling's case and others points to a trend that has shifted that dynamic, with ramifications both for the courtroom and public opinion.

When three Baton Rouge-area officers were fatally gunned down later in July, the second burst of violence highlighted a racial divide "as old as the city itself." The southern, mostly white portion of the city is informally segregated from the predominantly black neighborhoods to the north, as the Associated Press reported. 

Settling the protestors' lawsuit – which accused police of advancing on them in military gear and gas masks while brandishing assault weapons and driving armed vehicles, even pointing weapons directly at peaceful demonstrators – could be seen as a sign of progress toward addressing the concerns raised last summer and in similar instances since Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

But the legal proceedings that have stemmed from Sterling's death and ensuing protests are far from over. The US Department of Justice is still investigating the police shooting, and an officer who says he was injured during one of the protests is suing Mckesson and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Material from The Associated Press and Reuters was included in this report.

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