On Saturday, protesters descended on the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to demonstrate against the fatal shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police. After night fell, more than 100 participants were reportedly arrested by the Baton Rouge Police Department, including some journalists, and prominent Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson.
From the moment of McKesson’s arrest, a seemingly unprovoced action captured on his own livestream of the protest, the response from progressives, civil rights activists and anti-police brutality advocates was swift and unified. They rallied behind the hashtag #FreeDeRay, calling on authorities to release McKesson along with the other jailed demonstrators.
The official charge against McKesson is simple obstruction of a highway of commerce 2015—in other words, walking in the street. According to the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery, who’s extensively covered these sorts of protests before (he was a main chronicler of the Ferguson protests in 2014), witnesses to the arrest characterized it as physically violent.
In particular, Brittany Packnett―the co-founder of McKesson’s police reform organization Campaign Zero―told Lowery that McKesson was “clearly targeted,” and that “the officers won’t give their names.” McKesson was also singled out by the police by way of his “loud shoes.”
As he mentioned in his livestream prior to his arrest and as is apparent from the video, he was walking down the street on its shoulder, since there was no sidewalk.
McKesson, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Saturday, is one of the most prominent faces of the movement battle against police brutality and lethal use of force against African-Americans. As such, it’s not surprising that his arrest would stir up a major social media push. #FreeDeRay has been trending since Saturday night, and the drive and determination is obvious.
The instantly iconic image above was taken by New Orleans photojournalist Max Becherer for the Associated Press, showing the moment of McKesson’s arrest. The National Lawyer’s Guild has already launched a fundraising site to help bail out the protesters, with any additional funds going towards their legal defense.
According to Johnetta Elzie, a prominent activist and ally of McKesson's, the former Baltimore mayoral candidate was imprisoned alongside about 50 other protesters on Sunday morning. While it's unclear when they'll be given bond, it's reportedly happening in the near future.