In October, Lisa Batiste visited her old home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the first time since moving out last year—a month and a half after 37-year-old Alton Sterling was killed by police. “I have a pretty decent handle on the English language, but ‘Wow’ is about what I have right now,” she said, welling up with tears, as we stood outside the house together. (Crying is something that Batiste didn’t do much of before last year.) The hedges on either side of the walkway leading up to the house had grown since she’d lived there. In front, Lisa had flown an American flag; now there are two out back. But one is different: Displaying black, white, and blue stripes instead of red and white ones, it’s a so-called “Blue Lives Matter” flag, popularized in 2014 to show solidarity with the police. When Batiste first saw it, waving behind the American flag, she laughed wryly: “How ironic.” But the porch was the same as ever—big and inviting, set back from the boulevard.
On July 10, 2016, Batiste was sitting on this porch with her 27-year-old daughter when a march called to protest Sterling’s death neared her home. The father of five had been shot and killed by police in the parking lot of the Triple S Food Mart, where he sold CDs, five days earlier. Videos of the incident show two police officers wrestling Sterling forcefully to the ground. While he was pinned down, one of the cops yelled, “He’s got a gun!” and fired his weapon six times, hitting Sterling in the chest and back. Yet the owner of the Triple S—who recorded one of the videos—said that Sterling hadn’t been causing trouble outside his store, and also that he considered the sidewalk salesman his friend.
The July 10 protest reached Batiste’s corner, where police in riot gear had formed a line in front of the protesters. Armored vehicles were stationed in adjacent streets. There was only one place for the protesters to go: onto Batiste’s lawn. She counted between 100 and 150 people and, fearful that the police would start arresting the protesters, made a split-second decision. “My anxiety level starts to go up,” Batiste recalled, “and I was just like, ‘You guys come on.’” The protesters took refuge on her lawn. But within a few minutes, the police advanced, despite her objections. “That’s private property,” she recalled telling them. “You can’t [enter].” The cops didn’t listen. Video shows around 100 officers, some in riot gear, storming her lawn, throwing protesters to the ground and arresting them. In an effort to get away from the cops, the protesters backed from Batiste’s lawn onto her porch. One young woman “was like, ‘Oh my God, please let me in,’” Batiste said. “I was like, ‘I’m not gonna risk my family, no.’” The mother of two remembers putting up her arms and blocking her front door. In hindsight, she feels embarrassed about trying to keep the protesters out.
Batiste, who is 51, had been living in Baton Rouge for eight years. She had lived in the city once before, from 1998 to 2006; the second time around, she came for work and stayed for love, marrying an officer on the Baton Rouge police force. After the marriage went south, Batiste and her daughter moved into the house in Beauregard Town—“a transition neighborhood,” as Batiste calls it, with middle-class and poorer residents living side by side. She’d been living in the rental a little over a year when the police charged onto her property without asking.