“It’s my duty as a black person to uplift, enlighten and educate,” said Haki-Tyler, 23, an Atlanta schoolteacher. “I don’t want to be 45 and have my kids ask me, ‘mommy, did you participate in the Black Lives Matter protests’ and have to tell them no. This is where I should be.”
On Thursday, she tweeted out her plans to come to Baton Rouge and asked if anyone wanted to join her. Burnett and Gilstrap, friends from Grady High School, quickly responded.
“I was asked to go to Ferguson,” Gilstrap said, referring to the protests in 2014 protests in Missouri following the shooting of a 19-year-old African-American by a white police officer. “But I was too scared to go. When (Haki-Tyler) tweeted bout going to Baton Rouge, I didn’t have a second thought.”
The three friends came prepared. They wrote phone numbers for their attorneys on their arms and shared each other’s cell phone unlock codes, in case of arrest.
Racial disparities are acutely obvious in Baton Rouge. is At 14.1 percent, the unemployment rates for blacks is nearly three times higher than that of whites, according to 2014 U.S. Census data. And while African-Americans make up the majority of the city’s population, they compose roughly 30 percent of the city’s police force.
Nearly 200 protesters were detained during weekend protests in Baton Rouge, where police were much more aggressive in dealing with protesters than their Atlanta counterparts. On Sunday night, the Louisiana department deployed members of its SWAT team, supported by an armored tank, to crack down on protests after a long, tense weekend.
“In the protests in Atlanta, even at their worst, I knew I could get out of it,” said Gilstrap, a 22-year-old senior at Georgia State. “There’s an understanding there that I don’t think exists (in Baton Rouge).”
But the three friends say no matter where they are, they instinctively fear law enforcement.
“When I think of a cop I fear them,” said Burnett, 22, a recent Harvard University graduate. “You learn to expect the worst.”
That doesn’t mean they think all cops are bad.
“It’s not about saying whether they’re good or bad,” Haki-Tyler said. “It’s about the system.”
The three friends expressed varying degrees of hope for the future but agree change needs to come now, not tomorrow. Millennials are often accused of being impatient, and that may be true, but it’s not always a bad thing, they contend.
“I’m tired of having the ‘conversation,’ “ Burnett said. “Black people have been having that conversation forever.”
Gilstrap said he’s hopeful his will be “the last generation that experiences this kind of hate in the world.”
But 24 hours in Baton Rouge showed them there’s still a ways to go.
Within a few hours of their arrival, the Atlanta trio caught the tail end of a tense face-off between law enforcement in riot gear, accompanied by an armored personnel carrier, and protesters near the city government center.
“I think Baton Rouge is a shiningly ugly reminder that it’s time for another revolution,” Haki-Tyler said.
At 14.1 percent, the unemployment rates for blacks is nearly three times higher than that of whites, according to 2014 U.S. Census data. And while African-Americans make up the majority of Baton Rouge’s population, they compose roughly 30 percent of the city’s police force.