Protests over police killings aim at occupying interstates

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BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA >> Police made dozens of arrests in Louisiana's capital city during weekend protests around the country in which people angry over police killings of young black men sought to block some major interstates.

Riot police in full gear stopped a group of protesters in Baton Rouge late Sunday in their attempt to walk onto Interstate 110 in Baton Rouge, thwarting a protest tactic that social justice activists have increasingly tried in several U.S. cities.

Tensions between black citizens and police have risen since last week's killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in Minnesota by white officers, and a retaliatory attack on white police by a black sniper in Dallas that killed five officers and wounded others.

More than a thousand people left a Black Lives Matter rally in Memphis, Tennessee, and walked up a bridge over the Mississippi River on Sunday night, temporarily blocking all traffic on Interstate 40.

At a West Coast protest, hundreds of people poured into the streets of in Southern California late Sunday night, blocking traffic for several minutes on the 405 Freeway. Authorities told the Los Angeles Times there were no arrests and no reports of violence.

Elsewhere, hundreds blocked a segment of Interstate 94 in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Saturday. And hundreds also blocked motorists recently on part of Interstate 264 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Demonstrators have also tried but failed in recent days to block highways in Atlanta and Columbia, South Carolina.

Some government and law enforcement officials have been outspoken in seeking to discourage protesters from blocking traffic.

"While I appreciate the peaceful intent of this weekend's rallies, I'd ask that we not put our fellow citizens or law enforcement at risk — which is exactly what attempting to block highways does," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement.

In Louisiana, some 2,000 people rallied peacefully Sunday outside the Capitol building, State Police Maj. Doug Cain said, calling that initial protest "very organized and peaceful."

Then, by Sunday night, a few hundred people aimed for an on-ramp of Interstate 110 in Baton Rouge.

After a lengthy standoff, helmeted police in riot gear moved in, pinning some of the protesters as others fled. Some 30 to 40 people were taken into custody for trying to block a highway, sheriff's spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said.

Video footage showed officers reaching into a crowd and pulling individuals away.

The arrests brought the count to more than 160 taken into custody in recent days in the Louisiana capital. One officer was hit by a projectile and injured in the weekend protests, authorities said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said late Sunday he was "very proud" of his state's law enforcement response. Speaking at a news conference, Edwards said he didn't believe using riot gear to push protesters away from highway ramps was overly aggressive.

"I can assure everyone we are hearing the protesters," the governor said. "We are listening to their voices. But I'm especially gratified that our citizens here in Louisiana, to a very large degree, have decided to protest in a constructive and peaceful manner."

A Baton Rouge police spokesman, Sgt. Don Coppola, had blamed the large number of arrests on outside agitators. Police have confiscated three rifles, three shotguns and two pistols during that protest, he wrote in an email.

But most of those detained live in and around Baton Rouge and neighboring New Orleans and faced a single charge of obstructing a highway, the sheriff's spokeswoman Hicks said.

Some of the recent demonstrations in Baton Rouge began at the convenience store where 37-year-old Alton Sterling was killed while two police subdued him. The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation.

AP reporter Janet McConnaughey contributed from New Orleans.


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