On Tuesday July 6, Alton Sterling was selling CDs as he had for many years outside of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, LA. At some point, two white cops arrived, possibly in response to a 911 call from a homeless man that Sterling had refused to give money to and had shown his (legal and licensed) gun to instead. Alton Sterling’s friend Abdullah Muflahi saw the two officers talking to Sterling, and then pulled a phone out to start recording when he saw the officers, who have since been identified as Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake, taser Sterling and tackle him to the ground. Muflahi’s video captures Sterling being tackled as well as him being shot two times. After the recording stopped, Sterling was shot four more times for a total of six. Sterling died on the scene. Muflahi says that he and several other eyewitnesses were taken into custody and that police confiscated the store security footage without a warrant.
At the same time, unbeknownst to Muflahi or police, Arthur Reed, member of a group called Stop the Killing, had also recorded video. Reed’s group listens to police scanners and arrives on the scene of crimes to record in order to create media to deter young people from crime. This time, Reed caught Sterling’s death. He and Stop the Killing waited to see how the Baton Rouge police would handle it; when the department didn’t release any footage on their own (although Baton Rouge police use body cameras, the police department says that Lake and Salamoni’s fell off during their brief encounter with Sterling), and “after he heard that the police had accused Mr. Sterling of reaching for a gun,” Stop the Killing uploaded theirs to social media, where it quickly went viral.
Quinyetta McMillan, who has a 15-year-old son with Sterling, told the press “As a mother, I have now been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what happened to his father, that I can’t take away from him …I hurt more for him and his loss. As a parent, the greatest fear is to see your child hurt and know there is nothing you can do about it.”
The Justice Department has opened an investigation, although the power of that investigation, even if it does find wrongdoing, may be limited. As Imani Gandy at Rewire puts it, “the fact of the matter is that the DOJ is better at dealing with structural problems in a particular police department through “pattern or practice” cases than it is at prosecuting individual police officers for instances of excessive force or police brutality.” So far, Officers Lake and Salamoni (the latter of whom is son of a captain in the department) are on administrative leave.
Only a day later, on Wednesday evening, a video began circulating of a police officer in Falcon Heights, MN shooting Philando Castile at a routine traffic stop. Castile’s girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds, began recording on Facebook Live after their car was pulled over for a broken taillight with their young daughter in the back. In the video, Reynolds explains that she told the officer Castile had a legal license to carry a firearm and that Castile was going to reach into his pocket for his ID; when he did, the officer began shooting. The video shows Castile bloodied and slumped over in the passenger seat. Reynolds’ daughter can be heard comforting her from the backseat before the officer has Reynolds get out of the car and takes her into custody. At no point do the officers appear to call for medical aid for Castile, who later died in the hospital.
Reynolds has continued to speak out about her boyfriend’s death and her commitment to get justice for him. Castile’s mother, Valerie, has said in a series of interviews that she always emphasized with her son to comply with anything police asked: “‘Whatever they ask you to do, do it. Don’t say nothing,'” she advised him, adding, “So what’s the difference in complying and you get killed anyway?”
It’s been an incredibly traumatizing 24 hours in the midst of a deeply painful and dehumanizing month, year, century. Just on Monday, Delrawn Small was killed by an off-duty police officer in Brooklyn; a few days before that, Ronnie Shumpert was shot and mutilated by a police dog. There are almost certainly many more names that haven’t reached the media, that most of us won’t hear. Many people feel hopeless; many people feel angry, scared, exhausted and numb. Black American people are being publicly targeted for state violence, and in the coming days will also be the targets of interpersonal violence in many forms, including having explanations and justifications demanded of them, being bombarded with traumatizing videos and images, and having to interact with people who were able to immediately forget that these deaths have happened because they don’t consider them important, if they even knew about them in the first place. It’s a hard time and a good time to be gentle with each other, and if you aren’t Black, to decenter yourself and your thoughts and feelings on this, and instead to talk to members of your own community about the need for change.
Places to donate:
+ Justice for Philando started by his sister
+ Campaign Zero helps you find out where your representatives stand and help you demand action.
+ Beyoncé also helps you contact politicians.
+ Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stop Mattering, Roxane Gay
+ Training Officers to Shoot First and He Will Answer Questions Later, by Matt Apuzzo
+ The Really, Really Racist History of Gun Gontrol in America, by Jane Coaston
+ Am I Going to Write About Murdered Black People Forever?, by Kara Brown
+ How to Be A Better Ally: An Open Letter to White Folks, from Meg Cramer
+ Black Exhaustion, by Pilot Viruet
+ American Horror Story, Ezekiel Kweku