Alton Sterling: What’s the Proper Response When a Cop Kills Someone?

Alton Sterling: What’s the Proper Response When a Cop Kills Someone?

Should one be Ida B. Wells or bury their head in the sand?

Published July 6, 2016

Another name was added to the list of Blacks shot and killed (read: murdered) by the police this year: Alton Sterling, 37 years old, husband and father. I am a 37-year-old Black husband and father. Needless to state, my frustrations are all over the place.

Brother Sterling was standing in front of a convenience shop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, selling CDs when he was approached by two police officers. The officers were responding to a caller whom indicated being threatened by Sterling with a gun. A 45-second video, filmed by a bystander using their cellphone camera, shows Sterling being tackled to the ground by the two policemen, pinning his arms down, drawing their service weapons, pointing it to Sterling’s chest and shouting, “Hey, bro. If you f**king move – I swear to God…,” before the camera cuts away and several shots are heard.

The number of shots that entered Sterling’s chest and back vary across news outlets, but all agree there were at least four at point-blank range. The race of the officers, whom are currently on administrative leave, has not been disclosed, but after watching the video, my 6-year-old would describe them as “peach.” Sterling’s murder is the 558th by cops this year.

I’m always baffled by what occupies my friends’ social media timelines during events of this nature. Responses to police murders cover the spectrum from outrage to indifference. Some grieve, some pray, some post the video, some refuse to lest they add to the perpetual feed of public lynchings by paid public servants.

On one hand, there are feeds that pay homage to the work of Ida B. Wells, chronicling the death of Black men, women and children. On the other, some feeds are so far removed from the reality of the perpetual death of Black people at the hands of the State it seems intentional. People respond to death in different ways…particularly when there’s the death of an officer.

In May, shortly after his successful campaign, Gov. John Bel-Edwards (D-LA) made it a hate crime to intentionally kill a police officer or first responder. “The men and women who put their lives on the line every day, often under very dangerous circumstances, are true heroes and they deserve every protection that we can give them,” Edwards, the son of a sheriff, said in a statement. “They serve and protect our communities and our families. The overarching message is that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Louisiana.”

 “Louisiana is the first state to offer hate crime protections to police officers

    — Elahe Izadi for Washington Post

Chew on that for a moment…take all the time you need. Ready? That law means that in Louisiana #BlueLivesMatter. The same Louisiana where thousands of Black families were forced to migrate to other regions after Hurricane Katrina devastated their homes, neighborhoods, kith and kin. The same Louisiana wherein New Orleans police officers shot and killed civilians fleeing the floods attempting to cross the Danziger Bridge.  

Too bad Sterling wasn’t an off-duty cop. Then maybe the Christian conservative gun rights base would give a damn. Nope, instead we can be certain to know every detail of Sterling’s conviction in 2000 for carnal knowledge of a juvenile.

This man was a convicted felon with a firearm in his possession (officers recovered a handgun from Sterling’s pocket following his death). Never mind the fact that Louisiana is an open-carry state. Ignore the statement from the store owner, “His hand was nowhere (near) his pocket.”

    — Maya Lau and Bryn Stole, “'He’s got a gun! Gun': Video shows fatal confrontation between Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge police officer” for The Advocate

He threatened someone, remember? Who? Anonymous, that’s who!

Our Justice Department and FBI will investigate the death of Sterling, but a conviction can only be guaranteed with irrefutable evidence (see: Walter Scott). So, this cellphone camera video won’t suffice. There’s no recording of the shooting, just audio of the weapon being discharged multiple times. Hopefully there’s a closed-circuit camera outside the convenience shop that the police haven’t already attempted to recover (see: Laquan McDonald).

Nope – too late. "One of the first things the Baton Rouge Police Department did," Edmond Jordan (the family’s attorney) said, was "to go and confiscate the video system from Triple S Food Mart."

 “Video of Baton Rouge Man's Fatal Shooting by Police Sparks Protests, FBI Inquiry

    — Camila Domonoske and Bill Chappell for NPR

Trust and believe the cover-up is already underway. Two officers are sitting at home getting their stories straight, collecting a check furnished by the tax payers of Louisiana — standard procedure.

Meanwhile Sterling’s widow and five surviving children will have to determine how to piece a life together without their father, their tearful press conference surging the river of anguish felt throughout Black America left to wonder when will #BlackLivesMatter?

"He is a man who was simply trying to earn a living and take care of his children," said Quinyetta McMillan, the mother of Cameron Sterling, the 15-year-old son of Alton who attended the news conference. "As this video has been shared across the world, you will see with your own eyes how he was handled unjustly and killed without regard for the lives that he helped raise."

    — Kevin Litten “Alton Sterling's family, community leaders call for answers after shooting death” for The Times-Picayune 

Sadly this is the perfect storm of assault on Black lives: a Black person is publicly shot and killed, he was an armed felon in a predominantly Black neighborhood, video of the incident is recovered by the police department and white officers await the outcome of an investigation with pay. ‘Merica!

I found solace on Twitter in the words of famed social justice advocate Cardi B: “This country perpetrates cops as the boldest and strongest men…selected to protect our community. Sir, if you f**king scared of a Black man that’s on the MF floor, you shouldn’t be a f**king cop…you’s a coward. You need to be a f**king cashier in Walmart.”

Written by Russ Green

(Photo: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


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