Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
African-American resident Lisa Batiste opened her private property to be used as a gathering space for protesters. The SWAT team that arrived was uninvited.
Whatever polite social contract was in place between Baton Rouge law enforcement officials and protesters after police were caught on film shooting and killing Alton Sterling, it has certainly been broken. Just a few days ago, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards commended the protesters for exercising their rights to peacefully protest. But over the weekend, numerous photos and videos began circulating of police in riot gear aggressively chasing and arresting protesters for reasons that remain unclear.
One particular video shows a dense group of SWAT officers storming the front yard of the home of Lisa Batiste, who gave protesters permission to use her property. As Batiste told CBS news correspondent David Begnaud, she did not extend the same permission to the police officers who began coming onto her property, but videos show them doing so anyway.
Begnaud asked one Baton Rouge police officer, Jonny Dunnam, what gave police the right to enter Batiste’s property without her consent. Dunnam responded that the protesters had already broken the law—though he didn’t specify how—and that gave police the right to enter Batiste’s property to make arrests:
They "had already broken the law" Baton Rouge police explain why protesters were arrested on private property pic.twitter.com/I7pBpHPAsS— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) July 11, 2016
This is not how the law works, according to ACLU lawyer Marjorie Esman.
“The police can’t charge into your house without a warrant, even if they have reason to believe that you have committed a crime,” says Esman. “There are guidelines to follow for reasonable suspicions, but that’s to make stops, not to make arrests. For arrests, they have to see you breaking the law in real time and then arrest you right when you are doing it. If they don’t and you leave, they can’t just walk onto someone’s property to make the arrest. Because it’s this woman’s [Batiste’s] property, and now her property rights have been violated. She certainly wasn’t suspected of any crime, and they didn’t arrest her.”
If that’s the case, then what happened may yet be another case of African Americans facing indignities on their own front yards and porches—a sacred and culturally significant gathering space for black women across the South, as researched by the New Orleans-based group Women With a Vision.
As Batiste told the Baton Rouge news outlet The Advocate of her decision to let the protesters onto her lawn: “I just wanted them to have a safe place to voice their opinions as long as it wasn’t too antagonistic to police. But I think the police officers used this as an opportunity to extend their power and authority to the narrowest field of law.”