Black Man Fatally Shot by Police in Baton Rouge, Sparking Anguish, Outrage
Alton Sterling was killed after an altercation with police. The videotaped incident has gone viral.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it will open a civil rights investigation to look at the death of a black man shot by police Tuesday outside a Baton Rouge convenience store. A graphic video of the incident has gone viral, stirring protests and demonstrations in Baton Rouge, and outrage elsewhere.
Alton Sterling, 37, was shot early Tuesday morning in front of a convenience store where he was selling CDs, according to USA Today. Police responded to an anonymous caller who said he was threatened with a gun by a man selling CDs and wearing a red shirt. The owner of the store, Abdul Muflahi, said that upon arriving on the scene, the first officer used a stun gun and the second tackled Sterling.
In the cellphone video taken by a community activist, two officers can be seen ordering Sterling to get on the ground. They then force the suspect to the ground. Gunfire erupts moments after someone yells, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” Store owner Muflahi says Sterling fought to get an officer off him and the officer shot him four to six times. An autopsy confirms that Sterling died of multiple gunshot wounds to his chest and back. Police confirm witness reports that Sterling, who Vox reports had a criminal record, was armed.
The officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, both had body cameras, but according to Police Lt. Junny Dunnam the body-cam footage may not be as good as investigators hoped for because the cameras became dislodged during the altercation. Both officers, who are white, have been placed on administrative leave, per Baton Rouge Police Department policy. Salamoni is a four-year veteran of the force, Lake has been with the force three years.
At a press conference Wednesday, Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, Jr. called the shooting a tragedy, and said there are still questions to be answered. “Like you, there is a lot that we do not understand. And at this point, like you, I am demanding answers.”
Reaction to the Shooting of Alton Sterling
The unsettling video of the incident, shot by Stop the Killing, Inc, has been spreading on social media. #AltonSterling is currently the number one trending topic on Twitter. Among those rushing to comment were Rev. Jesse Jackson and Bernice King, youngest daughter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
— Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) July 6, 2016
May his name and his brutal last breath shake up and transform systems: #AltonSterling.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) July 6, 2016
Baton Rouge NAACP president Mike McClanahan said the video was “disturbing and gruesome,” The Guardian reported. “We know that justice must be served,” said McClanahan, who was one of the protesters Tuesday night.
Sterling’s 15-year-old son Cameron appeared at a press conference Wednesday with his mother, Quinyetta McMillan. Cameron wept inconsolably during the press conference as his mother said Sterling’s death had been unjust.
“As a mother I have now been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what happened to his father,” McMillan said.
Edmond Jordan, an attorney representing the family, told CNN the shooting raised troubling questions. “I think that the city is going to have to give give some good answers,” Jordan said, “and I don’t think they will be able to.”
Protests Over Sterling’s Death
Since the shooting, mainly peaceful protests have taken place, according to CNN. Some streets were shut down and demonstrators played music and chanted, “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “No Justice, No Peace.”
One man told the crowd of protesters, “We ain’t running from this,” CNN reported. “We gonna pray first, but we gonna stand tonight. We gonna stand tomorrow. And we gonna stand as a community.”
Police Chief Dadabie urged protesters to be peaceful. “We ask for your voluntary compliance to our laws and peaceful assembly with any gatherings that may be planned,” Dabadie said. “We encourage you to plan and protest … we don’t have any problems with that. We just ask you to do it peacefully, and that no one gets hurt.”
A recent Pew Research study found that 61 percent of black adults say race relations are “generally bad” in the U.S. and 45 percent of whites say race relations are generally bad. Additionally, 84 percent of black adults say they feel blacks are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with the police, compared with 50 percent of white adults who feel the same.