NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Thousands gathered in downtown New Orleans Wednesday for another night of demonstrations sparked by national outrage after the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, a black man who cried out for his mama as police officers kneeled on his chest and neck until he died.
Demonstrations in the Big Easy have been peaceful, in contrast to reports of looting and violence in other cities nationwide, but Wednesday’s demonstration was different.
Late in the evening, protesters walked into traffic to block the I-10 when tear gas was sprayed into the crowd by the New Orleans Police Department. The measure came after several nights of peaceful demonstrations.
Earlier in the day, after listening to speeches in Duncan Plaza across the street from city hall, the protesters filed into the street and began marching toward St. Charles Avenue, where police appeared to be giving the demonstrators room as they marched.
Wednesday marked the fourth day of demonstrations. Each has drawn thousands of people. Many at Duncan Plaza Wednesday said this was the first they attended and that they came out to show their support against brutality.
Some also said they came in support of family members. As with other nights, masks were worn and people tried to distance themselves, though in the thick of the crowd people drew close together.
Tuesday night’s demonstration led to protesters blocking traffic on the I-10, with police support. A spokesperson for the New Orleans Police Department confirmed following Tuesday night’s demonstration that there were “no arrests and no incidents.”
Police on Tuesday also said they are in solidarity with demonstrators. But at least one speaker Wednesday didn’t believe the pledge.
“I call bullshit” on police solidarity, protester Angela Kenlaw said.
She led the crowd through chants of “fuck capitalism, fuck the police” and said the police “perpetuate terror” for poor people — all poor people, whether they be brown, black or white.
“They are here to control; here to brutalize, here to put fear in the people,” she said. “They are here to protect property — not you!”
“Do you think the NOPD are really our friends?” The crowd answered, “No!”
Kenlaw listed the names of black people killed by police as the crowd continued the call and response. The list included Modesto Reyes, 35, who was shot to death last Friday by Jefferson Parish police during a traffic stop in a town outside New Orleans.
“In order to have them leave us alone, we have to stay vigilant to ourselves, and to our lives,” she said.
“We take the time to fight because we imagine with our minds the world that we want to create,” Kenlaw said later.
A black man with a thick greying beard who watched the crowd from the distance Wednesday and identified himself by the name Nat Turner, in reference to Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, said the demonstrations are necessary and also inevitable.
He spoke of the problem as pertaining to property, spanning back to slavery when white people could purchase African Americans. He said it is a matter of the slave-owning mentality, of the terror and brutality, having to go. Agreeing with the speaker, the man said the world as it is has to break through to the world as it can be.
“The shit is hitting the fan. The shit got to hit the fan. It’s simple,” he said.
“I think everybody understands what’s happening in this country,” he said. “This is the prelude to a revolution.”