Friday 16 September 2016

Was the shooting to death of Alton Sterling legitimate?

At 12:35 p.m., on July 5th, 2016, at 2112 North Foster Drive, in the parking lot of Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge in the State of Louisiana, an anonymous caller phoned the Baton Rouge Police Department and reported that another man who was selling CDs on a street corner, was threatening him and waving and brandishing a handgun at him.                                                   
The man holding the gun was a 37-year old heavy-set black man whose name was Alton Sterling.

Sterling was earlier charged on October 31st, 2000 with carnal knowledge (having sex) with an under aged juvenile. He was sentenced to prison for five years at hard labour. He was given credit for the time he was in custody waiting for his trial.

Court records show that Sterling was arrested in May 2009 after an officer confronted him outside a store where he was selling CDs. It was a different store than the one where this story refers to.  According to a police report, Sterling tried to reach into his pocket when the officer was frisking him, ignored the officer's commands to keep his hands on a police vehicle and tried to run away. Sterling was charged with possession of marijuana, sound reproduction prohibited (bootleg CDs), illegal possession of a firearm and drugs, resisting an officer and illegal possession of a stolen firearm.

He pleaded guilty in 2011 to being a felon in illegal possession of a firearm and illegally carrying a weapon. Sterling pleaded guilty to one count of illegal carrying of a weapon with a controlled dangerous substance and was sentenced to five years in prison on July 19, 2011 – which he served until he made parole on Dec. 5, 2013.

With respect to the July 5th, 2016 incident, Sterling who was already a convicted felon, which would have barred him from legally carrying a gun or even owning a gun, he still continued to carry a gun on his person. Obviously his previous incarceration taught him nothing. It is also obvious that this felon was not a honest and decent citizen in Baton Rouge. 

The Baton Rouge Police Department was quick to respond the other citizen’s call.  The two officers who initially arrived on the scene were Blane Salamoni, a four-year member of the department, and Howie Lake II, who has been on the force for three years. Each of these officers had two prior “use of force” complaints filed against them.

Lake was involved in a police shooting in December 2014 when a black man refused to drop his gun, threatened to kill himself and pointed his revolver at officers. The man was shot and wounded. Lake did nothing wrong in the shooting of the man with the gun. Lake also injured a combative black juvenile when they went to the ground during a struggle on April 19th, 2014. The juvenile cut his chin. Lake did nothing wrong during that takedown.

Salamoni's complaints involved punching a black man on August 5th, 2015, when he tried to grab the officer's stun gun and a vehicle pursuit on June 17th, 2015, in which a black man was injured when he crashed into a retaining wall.Salamoni wasn`t  at fault for that man`s injuries. However, Salamoni was issued a letter of caution for his involvement in a “preventable crash” on June 13th, 2012.

And now I will bring you back to the July 5th, 2016 incident.

When the officers told Sterling kneel, he refused so the officers used a Taser on Sterling, then forced the heavy-set man to the hood of a sedan and then to the ground. Sterling was pinned to the ground by both officers, with one kneeling on his chest and the other on his thigh, both attempting to control his arms.

One of the officers exclaimed, “He's got a gun! Gun!” One of the officers yelled, “If you fucking move, I swear to God!” Then Salamoni was heard on the video saying, “Lake, he's going for the gun!” One of the officers aimed his gun at Sterling's body, then three gunshots were heard, and then the camera panned away; just before the camera panned back, three more gunshots are heard. The police officer sitting on Sterling's chest was out of the picture, and the officer who drew the gun was about 3 feet (0.91 m) away with his gun trained on Sterling, who has a clear gunshot wound in his chest. According to witness Abdullah Muflahi, the officers then retrieved a firearm from Sterling's pocket. The officers then radioed for Emergency Medical Services

According to Parish Coroner William Clark of East Baton Rouge, a preliminary autopsy on July 5th indicated that Sterling had died due to multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back.

I don’t know if the wounds in the back were caused by direct shots to his back or alternatively, they were exit wounds.

Multiple bystander cell phones video-taped the shooting, in addition to store surveillance and officer body cameras. One of the bystander videos was filmed by a group called "Stop the Killing" which listens to police scanners and films crimes in progress as well as police interactions in an effort to reduce violence in the community. A second video was made available the day after the shooting by the store owner and eyewitness Abdullah Muflahi. In a statement to NBC News, Muflahi, the owner of the store, said that Sterling never wielded the gun or threatened the officers. He said that Sterling had started carrying a gun a few days prior to the event because other CD vendors had been robbed recently. Muflahi also said that Sterling was “not the one causing trouble” during the situation that led to the police being called. 

We don’t know what really occurred after the police arrived so until a complete investigation has been completed and made public it would be wrong to speculate.

After meeting with the U.S. attorney's office to get an update on the probe, the Governor put out a statement saying: "The people of Baton Rouge and across Louisiana should have no doubt that a thorough and impartial investigation is taking place as we speak."

A group of community and faith-based leaders called Together Baton Rouge asked the Justice Department to widen the scope of its investigation, saying it should include possible criminal violations such as battery, assault with a deadly weapon, negligent homicide and manslaughter.

Richard Carbo, spokesman for Governor John Bel Edwards, said the U.S. attorney's office in Baton Rouge will look into not only whether civil rights were violated, but also any other violations of state and federal law. He also said that f they find any violation of state laws, the U.S. attorney's office will refer it back to the local district attorney for prosecution.

At an evening vigil for Sterling, the governor thanked residents of the city for remaining peaceful and promised to make improving law enforcement a priority. He said, "So now is not only a time to grieve but also talk and, more importantly, to listen to one another.”

On the night of July 5th\, more than 100 demonstrators in Baton Rouge shouted "no justice, no peace," set off fireworks, and blocked an intersection to protest Sterling's death.[16] Flowers and messages were left at the place of his death. The police cleared a crowd of about 200 people, but the organizers announced that they would regroup in front of City Hall.

On July 6th\, Black Lives Matter held a candlelight vigil in Baton Rouge, with chants of "We love Baton Rouge" and calls for justice.

Speaking shortly after the shootings of Sterling and Philando Castile, President Barack Obama did not comment on the specific incidents, but called upon the U.S. to "do better." He also said "Americans should feel outraged at episodes of police brutality since they're rooted in long-simmering racial discord."[19][20]

On July 7th, a protest was held at Dallas, Texas, relating to this shooting and that of Castile on July 6th. At the end of the peaceful protest, Micah Xavier Johnson opened fire in an ambush, killing five police officers and wounding nine others and two civilians. Johnson was then killed by a robot-delivered bomb.

Also on July 7th, the FBI's New Orleans field office issued a warning about "threats to law enforcement and potential threats to the safety of the general public" stemming from the death of Sterling.

Following the shootings of Sterling and Castile, both the Dallas police officers and the Bahamian government issued a travel advisory telling citizens to use caution when traveling to the U.S. due to racial tensions. They specifically advised that young men use "extreme caution" when interacting with police and to be non-confrontational and cooperative.  Similar advisories were issued by the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain days later.

On July 8th, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement strongly condemning the Sterling and Castile's killings. Human rights expert Ricardo A. Sunga III, the current Chair of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, stated that the killings demonstrate "a high level of structural and institutional racism" in the U.S., adding that “the United States is far from recognizing the same rights for all its citizens. Existing measures to address racist crimes motivated by prejudice are insufficient and have failed to stop the killings.”

On July 9th, a protest in Baton Rouge turned violent, with one police officer having several teeth knocked out and eight firearms (including three rifles, three shotguns, and two pistols) being confiscated from New Black Panther Party members. Police arrested 102 people. The next day,  between 30 and 40 people were arrested

Professor Peniel E. Joseph, founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University, editorialized that "the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile evoke the past spectacle of lynching" and that for change to happen, Americans must confront the pain of black history.

On July 11th, a home in Baton Rouge was raided in connection with a pawn shop burglary in which seven or eight guns and ammunition were stolen. Three people were arrested during the raid, one of whom said that the group was planning on using the stolen firearms to shoot police officers at protests.

On July 13th, local organizing groups and the American Civil Liberties Union's Louisiana branch filed a lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Police Department for violating the First Amendment rights of demonstrators who they say were protesting peacefully against Sterling's death.

On July 17th, Gavin Eugene Long shot and killed three police officers and wounded several others in Baton Rouge. Long was killed at the scene during a shootout with responding officers. The shooting has been linked to the nationwide tension over race and policing, with the event happening days after Sterling's death in the same city

I don’t know what the final report of Sterling’s death will say but if the report states that he died at the hands of the police for no legitimate reason, the officers involved better be dealt with severely by the courts or all hell will break out. 

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