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A tough day in Baton Rouge: Prominent activist detained and confrontations with Black Panthers

At least 200 people were arrested during demonstrations in Baton Rouge and St. Paul on July 9 as people protested in solidarity against the fatal shootings of black men. One prominent Black Lives Matter activist, DeRay McKesson, caught his own arrest on video. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

This post has been updated.

Tensions flared Saturday evening across Baton Rouge, La., an epicenter for demonstrations against the recent death of Alton Sterling after an officer-involved shooting, as Black Panther activists came face-to-face with state troopers and prominent Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson and a public radio reporter were among dozens taken into custody before midnight.

Portions of Saturday night’s chaotic events were broadcast on Periscope by McKesson, a leader in the call for police reform who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Baltimore this year. McKesson’s own footage appears to show him being arrested around 11 p.m.

DeRay McKesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist, was arrested during a demonstration in Baton Rouge Saturday, July 9. He captured the moment of his arrest in this live stream video posted on Periscope. (Video: DeRay McKesson, Photo: AP)

“City police — you’re under arrest,” a man says, as the shot goes out of focus. “I’m under arrest y’all,” McKesson says, as onlookers ask: “Why is he being arrested?”

The feed cut out as his smartphone was apparently thrown from his hand.

Brittany Packnett, who co-founded an activist collective with McKesson, said she watched as two officers forcefully arrested the Baltimore activist. “They tackled him, one officer hit the top of his body and another officer the bottom,” she said.

Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson taken into custody by Baton Rouge police

In a text message from within police custody, McKesson said he and 33 others were in custody together, wrists tied, and being taken to a police precinct. There is no word yet on what charges they may be facing.

Two young protesters detained with McKesson were trying to reach their mother to get home when they were taken into custody by a pair of officers in Baton Rouge, one told The Washington Post in a series of text messages from within police custody.

“Basically they ambushed us and tackle (sic) us for no reason,” the teen said in a text message at 12:26 a.m. Sunday. “They never read me my rights and I’m only 17 yrs old with no record.”

NPR affiliate WWNO tweeted that one of its reporters had been arrested while covering the protests.

After those encounters, the demonstration on a city highway started to thin to around 100 people. About 50 officers in riot gear lined up on a median and abruptly charged at the remaining crowd, leading to shouting and chaos and several other people being taken into custody.

The encounter came as protests resumed in the Louisiana city four days after Alton Sterling was killed there after two officers responded to a complaint about an armed man causing a disturbance outside a convenience store.

As has become customary, the nation was able to watch, via cellphone video, as Sterling was pinned to the ground by the officers. His death was followed by the killing of Philando Castile by a police officer Wednesday in Minnesota. And on Thursday, a gunman killed five members of the Dallas Police Department in the nation’s deadliest mass shooting of police officers in 84 years.

The resumption of demonstrations in Baton Rouge was announced by the New Black Panther Party, which on Saturday led protesters to the front of the Baton Rouge Police Department, blocking traffic on an adjacent highway.

State police in riot gear worked to hold the line on the protests and clear streets for traffic. Shouts of “black power” and “pigs” rang out, according to reports on social media. Police, meanwhile, chanted, “Fall back, fall back.”

Scuffles between protesters and troopers also punctuated the stand-off, and a spokesperson for the Baton Rouge Police Department said there were several arrests and two firearms recovered. Open carry of firearms is legal in Louisiana without a permit.

Fenit Nirappil and Mark Berman contributed to this report.

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