New Orleans police launched tear gas on a crowd of protesters near the top of the Crescent City Connection late Wednesday night.
The tear gas caused brief mayhem among the protesters, many of whom starting screaming and sprinting back down the bridge in an effort to escape the fumes.
Many people, unable to see, crouched on the ground until they could be helped by others with milk and water to wash out their eyes. By about midnight, protesters had retreated down the on-ramp to the bridge at St. Charles Avenue and dispersed for the night.
An NOPD spokesman confirmed Thursday morning that officers arrested five demonstrators on Wednesday night for misdemeanor offenses. The NOPD originally told NOLA.com that no arrests had been made.
The scene marked the first escalation in the police's response to protesters in New Orleans marching in response to killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and calling for reform or abolition of the police in America. The previous five consecutive days of demonstrations ended peacefully. On Tuesday night, riot-gear-clad NOPD officers knelt with protesters on the front lines on Interstate 10.
The peacefulness of the previous protests in New Orleans had been noted by reporters, activists and police, with some attributing the calm to police keeping their distance.
“I just feel like [NOPD] always say they want peace,” said Swagg White, one of the organizers of the week of protests, after the teargas was launched on the crowd. “But then when we bring peace they bring…,” she trailed off as she nodded toward the police line. “We came in peace, man...it ain’t right, man.”
NOPD issued the following statement on Twitter after the tear gas was deployed and the night wound down:
“Escalation and confrontation hurts us all,” NOPD posted to Twitter after the incident. “NOPD is committed to respectful protection of our residents’ First Amendment rights. However, tonight we were compelled to deploy gas on the CCC in response to escalating, physical confrontation with our officers.”
In a previous tweet, NOPD said teargas was used “to disperse protesters after the crowd refused to comply with three orders not to attempt to walk across the CCC.”
Earlier in the evening, while the crowd gathered in Duncan Plaza near City Hall, organizers of the protest expressed apparent disdain for the Tuesday night’s moment of kneeling solidarity, the photographs of which were widely circulated.
“Everybody doing it before [NOPD], doing it for placation,” one organizer said of the many photos of police in other cities making similar gestures.
Up until teargas was fired on the crowd, the protest was peaceful. For about two hours, people of all ages marched from Duncan Plaza, through the Central Business District, then down St. Charles Avenue for several blocks before looping back via Magazine Street. NOPD followed at a distance behind the crowd and blocked off nearby streets along the route.
Twelve-year-old Lorenzo Morgan attended the demonstration with his family.
“I’m here because I want black people to have respect and I don’t want people to keep getting killed,” he said as the crowd moved into the street from Duncan Plaza. “It’s just not good. It’s just eliminating our race.”
One of the attendees, Heather Gonzales, said she had attended every night of rallies in New Orleans so far, in an effort to show solidarity with George Floyd, and the many other black people who have been killed by police in the last several years.
“It’s about making it clear that black lives and bodies — trans, children, mothers, fathers — that it all matters.” She said she hoped the week of demonstrations would result in greater police accountability.
Around 9:30 p.m., protesters began walking up the on-ramp to the Crescent City Connection at St. Charles. Once there, people in the crowd milled about, chanting and singing for about an hour. Around 11:15 p.m. the New Orleans Police Department fired several rounds of teargas into the crowd.
Two more days of protests are currently planned for this week. Thursday evening’s rally will begin at Duncan Plaza at 6 p.m., and Friday’s is scheduled for Jackson Square, also at 6 p.m