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Sit-in: 3rd day of protest in police shooting of Black man

Protesters march down Amb Caffery and Johnston St. Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Lafayette, La. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP) (Associated Press)

NEW ORLEANS — About 50 protesters held a sit-in outside a Louisiana city hall Monday after being told they couldn’t go in to file complaints about the way officials handled the fatal shooting of a Black man.

The Friday death of Trayford Pellerin, 31, has heightened tensions between protesters and local leaders in Lafayette, a consolidated city and parish of about 244,400 in Louisiana’s Cajun country.

All officers who were involved in the shooting are on administrative leave — standard procedure after shootings by police — Sgt. Wayne Griffin, a spokesman for city police, said Monday. He said he did not know how many officers were involved.

An intercom announcement Monday directed Lafayette Consolidated Government employees not to use the main entrance, where protesters chanted between sessions of silent prayer, The Advocate reported.

After a couple of hours, Parish Councilman A.B. Rubin told the group that elected officials had left early to prepare for Tropical Storms Marco and Louise. Mayor-President Josh Guillory said Monday that residents south of Interstate 10 should consider evacuating and those south of U.S. 90 “are strongly encouraged to evacuate” by Tuesday afternoon, The Advertiser reported.

Protest organizers said they want Guillory to respond by Tuesday evening to their concerns about the shooting. They also want a police task force including community members created by Sept. 6.

“This is urgent,” activist Cory Levier said.

Monday was the third straight day of protests against Pellerin’s death. Louisiana State Police have said he was carrying a knife and was shot when he tried to enter one convenience store in Lafayette after causing a disturbance at another.

Bullet holes near the spot where Pellerin was killed belie statements that police were trying to protect people inside, said Baton Rouge attorney Ron Haley, who is representing Pellerin’s family along with national civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

“That store’s side is riddled with bullets,” showing “callous disregard for the safety of the people in the store,” he said.

Five Lafayette residents and one person from Abbeville, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south, were arrested on charges accusing them of obstructing public passages during protests Sunday night, The Advertiser reported. Three arrests during protests Saturday night were on disturbance charges, the newspaper reported.

Sunday’s protesters, who held signs and blocked traffic, had been told that Pellerin’s mother, Michelle Pellerin, wanted all demonstrations to remain peaceful to respect her son’s memory. On Saturday, police cleared the crowd with smoke canisters after some protesters set fires on a highway median.

“No rioting, no burning buildings, no damage to vehicles, no assaulting of people,” community activist Jamal Taylor said during the rally livestreamed on his Facebook page.

Earlier Saturday, Pellerin’s aunt and grandmother said they arrived on the shooting scene by chance Friday night as they drove home from a day out.

Choicey Pellerin, Trayford Pellerin’s aunt, said that she and her mother saw lots of blue lights and police. Just as her mother said there must have been a bad wreck, her mother’s phone rang.

“It was her brother on the phone, saying her grandson had just been shot,” Choicey Pellerin recounted Sunday during an Associated Press interview. She said her 31-year-old nephew had called twice that day, saying, “Grandma, I love you.”

Crump and Haley, who joined Trayford Pellerin’s aunt and mother on the conference call interview, said that less than three weeks earlier, Lafayette police simply arrested a white man who had a knife and had led a car chase. Police said Donald Guidry, 42, of Rayne, had told officers he was armed and might harm himself, but was talked into surrendering without incident, according to several news reports.

“There are two justice systems in America. One for Black Americans and one for white Americans,” Crump said. “Until we address this we will continue to see more hashtags” about Black people killed by police, he said.

The sound of the shots and comments by young women who saw the shooting were captured on video.

Taylor said an earlier decision to close parks and recreation centers — most of them in Black neighborhoods — and a statement by Guillory about Pellerin’s death indicate “a person disconnected from the plight of the Black man, from the person of color who is fighting to be equal and have his life valued the same as a white person’s life is valued,” he said.

Tensions surrounding the fatal shooting follow a global reckoning over police tactics and racial injustice that stem from the death of George Floyd on May 25 under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.

The family believes Pellerin may have been having a mental health crisis, Crump said.

Michelle Pellerin said her son had told her in March that he was seeking therapy for social anxiety so serious that it kept him from holding jobs for long.

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