Viral video sparks outrage in New Orleans over arrest of black brass band musician

Video of police in New Orleans arresting a black brass band musician after a call from a white store owner is going viral on social media.

Video of the arrest circulating on social media shows local musician Eugene Grant, 27, pinned on the ground by a New Orleans Police officer as a crowd watches. Several people in the video, which has been viewed over 44,000 times, claim that the owners of a local bookstore, Frenchmen Art & Books, were the ones that called the authorities. Some have taken to social media to criticize the store, resulting in the comments on its Yelp page being temporarily disabled.

Grant was playing the trumpet around 9:30 p.m. Monday night when police received a report of a disturbance from a local business, New Orleans Police Department spokesman Andy Cunningham said in a statement to local media.

Responding officers found the band playing in the street and asked them to move over to the sidewalk to allow vehicles to pass and to avoid blocking the entrance of a nearby store.

“At that time, a member of the band, later identified as Eugene Grant, struck one of the officers in the chest with his instrument, damaging the officer’s body-worn camera,” Cunningham said. “After striking the officer with his instrument, Grant refused repeated requests by both officers and citizens to calm down, forcing the officers to detain Grant until backup arrived.”

Grant was arrested for obstructing public passages and resisting an officer, police said. Busking, or playing music in the street, is legal on Frenchmen Street, a popular corridor for live music, but police can shut down a street performance if it’s blocking a public right of way or exceeding the noise limit.

Prosecutors later decided to dismiss the charges, according to Cherrell Simms Taplin, Grant’s lawyer. Taplin expressed some skepticism at the idea that Grant was violent towards the officers.

“It’s hard for me to believe that he was in any way aggressive. That being said, he also has special needs,” Taplin told USA TODAY. “There’s a possibility that there was some lapse in communication between Eugene and the police officers.”

Owner David Zalkind, who is white, told the Washington Post that he decided not to open the bookstore on Tuesday or Wednesday because of the online backlash. Zalkind said he typically allows the brass bands to play outside his shop, but decided to call the police Monday after weeks of frustration over crowds blocking potential customers.

“If I knew that Little Eugene was going to be tackled, I wouldn’t have made that phone call,” he told the Post.

Taplin, Grant’s lawyer, said he and his family are concerned with getting out of the city before the impending storm but Grant hopes to return and play music once again.

“Of course he is disheartened by what happened because he has been playing music on that corner for at least 10 or more years,” Taplain said. “but it hasn’t stopped him he’s still determined to continue to play music on the streets of New Orleans.”

Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

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