Alton Sterling was a 37-year-old man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who was shot to death by Baton Rouge police.
Alton sold CDs and DVDs to support himself and his family, and that is what police found him doing when they responded to a disturbance call where someone told 9-1-1 that an individual was threatening him with a gun.
According to the police, “Uniformed officers responded to a disturbance call from a complainant who stated that a black male who was selling music cd’s and wearing a red shirt threatened him with a gun.”
Police responded to the scene, and according to their story, some kind of altercation occurred between Alton and the responding police officers.
However, some onlookers took a video of the incident, which many have suggested shows signs of excessive force and police brutality.
Warning: The video below is graphic
The video appears to show the police tackle Sterling to the ground, and then fire several shots at him after warning him, “If you f*cking move, I swear to God!”
Not content to fire a single shot before the deed was done, officers fired at least five bullets into Sterling after he was already on the ground.
Abdul Muflahi, the owner of the store immediately in front of the scene, has said that it sounded like officers fired “five to six” shots. He also said that while Sterling kept a gun on him, he was not holding it or reaching for it during the encounter.
The African American community has reacted to the shooting with anger, and protests have erupted in various cities around the country.
Meanwhile, local officials in Baton Rouge promise that nothing will be swept under the rug. Congressman Cedric Richmond, who represents Baton Rouge in the House of Representatives, has called for a Justice Department investigation into the matter:
The video footage released today of the shooting of Alton Sterling by officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department was deeply troubling and has understandably evoked strong emotion and anger in our community,” said Rep. Richmond. “I share in this anger and join the community in the pursuit of justice. My prayers and thoughts are with Mr. Sterling’s family as they deal with this tragedy.”
There are a number of unanswered questions surrounding Mr. Sterling’s death. Including questions about the initial calls for police presence, the level of force used by officers, the verbal and physical altercation, and the response of the officers after he was shot. I call on the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a full and transparent investigation into this incident. The cause of justice requires state and local law enforcement to join in this request as soon as possible.
As of writing, the police involved have not yet been interviewed, as department policy is to give them “a day to think about it.”
Baton Rouge police have also said that while their police are required to wear body cameras, in this particular instance, the body cameras “fell off” the officers, and hence did not capture the moment of shooting on film.
Sterling’s family members have come forward to say that he was truly a good man, and did not deserve to die.
“Pretty much everybody who knows him knows he’s a sweet person,” his sister Morgan has told the news. And an emotional press conference shows his 15-year-old son breaking down, adding raw, heartbreaking humanity to this tragic story:
Others, however, have tried to focus on Sterling’s past, pointing out that he did have a criminal record:
These debates often cause deep fissures in American society, with one extreme suggesting that the police are all terrible people with a horrendous civil rights track, and others suggesting that the police are all honorable people who should be trusted without question.
Perhaps there is a way to remedy the institutional problems of our militarized police force without tagging all individual police officers as hateful. I hope so.