Lafayette leaders condemned Saturday protests that they claimed included “out-of-town agitators,” and Sheriff Mark Garber warned his deputies would confront any future protesters promoting violence.
While Garber offered no evidence of protesters from out of town joining Lafayette marchers Saturday, his comments came hours after his deputies confronted a group of marchers who spent much of the evening blocking Evangeline Thruway.
“If any out-of-town agitators are watching this, if anyone is planning to enhance their technique tomorrow or the next day, we are ready for you. We are prepared. We will not willingly give up this city,” Garber said. “You will have to go through every resource that I have and every resource that the police have in order to do harm to the citizens or their property.”
The marchers took to the streets after a vigil for 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin, who was killed by Lafayette police Friday night after officers approached him at a gas station. Officers responding to a disturbance call about a man carrying a knife shot Pellerin after they tasered him and he continued to walk away from them.
A vigil held at the Shell gas station on Northeast Evangeline Thruway where Pellerin was shot featured heartfelt messages from family members and one of the attorneys representing the family.
After about an hour, about 150 people marched south on the thruway as police blocked traffic to motorists. As the sun set, protesters marched to the Lafayette Police Precinct No. 4 on Moss Street where they were met by deputies in riot gear who threw flash bangs to disperse the crowd.
Garber, along with Mayor-President Josh Guillory, interim Lafayette Police Chief Scott Morgan, Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit and City Councilman AB Rubin, held a press conference late Saturday night but didn’t allow local NAACP leaders to attend.
Marja Broussard, the local NAACP chapter president who met with reporters outside of the press conference at the police station, accused Guillory of contributing to the tensions felt in the city.
“We are not like other communities. We are a lot worse than other communities when it comes to race relations because our mayor, I’ll say it, our mayor is racist,” Broussard said. “Everything that he has done since he’s been in office has impacted the African-American community negatively and it’s time for this to stop.”
Guillory has come under fire for proposing shutting down community centers that serve predominantly Black neighborhoods and he ordered Broussard and other protesters out of a town hall recently when they interrupted it with chants.
Guillory also defended the police killing of Pellerin, saying he was threatening and officers did everything they could to subdue him before shooting him.
More:Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory: Black man killed by officers was ‘threatening’
Broussard also criticized Garber, saying he threatened the community and was militarizing his deputies. The Lafayette NAACP and other activists plan to gather at 5 p.m. Sunday outside City Hall to address concerns about Guillory and Garber.
In their press conference, Garber, Guillory and others praised NAACP leaders for the peaceful vigil that had been organized and instead blamed a few who attended for the way the night ended in a confrontation with deputies.
“I would say shame on those who took the opportunity that our good citizens chose to say what they were feeling about this incident and chose to do something later in the evening that was just not acceptable,” Morgan said.
The Lafayette leaders said they support the right to protest peacefully, but Guillory said he wouldn’t tolerate violence or unlawful acts.
“We are a peaceful community and we will give up not a single inch of the city of Lafayette or the parish of Lafayette,” he said. “We respect the rules of law and we are a safe and peaceful community.”
“We will not put up with terrorism,” he added.
Arrests were made during the protest, but it was unclear why or what charges were filed, Morgan said. At least three people were detained by officers after they refused to leave the Moss Street area after deputies asked them to and after flash bangs were fired.
Morgan said he was unaware of any injuries.
A few fires were lit in the median on Northeast Evangeline Thruway and had to be put out by the Lafayette Fire Department, said Benoit. He echoed the sentiment that community members have a right to protest but said they don’t have the right to “burn the city down.”
“This is our city. Let’s protect our city. Let’s protect our first responders and let’s do the right thing and let the courts handle whatever they have to handle,” he said.