Not Charging the Officers Who Killed Alton Sterling Is a Travesty

Update: On March 30, the Baton Rouge Police Department released disturbing body camera video of the police killing of Alton Sterling, and announced that Officer Blane Salamoni, who shot Sterling six times, would be fired.

On March 27, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced that his office would not bring criminal charges against the two police officers who shot and killed Alton Sterling as he lay pinned by them to the ground in front of a convenience store in Baton Rouge.

Attorney General Landry’s decision is two contradictory things: It is shocking, and it is unsurprising. The decision sends a clear message about policing in America today, and highlights the continuing crisis of accountability when it comes to unlawful use of excessive and deadly force by police.

The failure to hold police accountable for the killings of Black men and boys is standard practice at both the local and federal level. Last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s so-called “top cop,” and his Department of Justice concluded there was insufficient evidence to bring federal civil rights charges against the officers involved in Sterling’s death. And, while the Baton Rouge Police Chief said disciplinary hearings would be held for the officers this week, the officers who killed Sterling, and whose killing of Sterling was caught on video, both remain employed by the Baton Rouge Police Department.

Sterling was one of 233 Black people shot and killed by the police in 2016. And while the national media spotlight on police violence has faded, the death toll has remained steady. The Washington Post Police Shooting Database records show 2934 people shot and killed by police between 2015 and 2017. That’s nearly 1000 deaths per year. Earlier this month, police officers in Sacramento fired 20 rounds at Stephon Clark, who was unarmed and standing in his own backyard. He died of the wounds inflicted on him by law enforcement. As did Danny Ray Thomas, another unarmed Black man, a man in mental distress, who was killed by police in Harris County, Texas, just days ago.

Sterling’s death is a glaring reminder that police officers too often use aggressive tactics and excessive force, informed by implicit bias rather than community protection. Upon first arriving at the scene, one of the officers reportedly put a gun to Sterling’s head and said “I’ll kill you, bitch.” The AG’s report describes the officer as giving Sterling a “stern” warning: “Don’t fucking move or I’ll shoot you in your fucking head.”

A death threat is not an acceptable warning. And, coming from police and directed at Black and brown people, death is too often the result. The ACLU of Louisiana and partner organizations are working to reform police practices to combat these killings.

Some reforms are already under way. In November 2016, the Baton Rouge Police Department, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Louisiana State Police, and the City of Baton Rouge committed to use only the level of force objectively reasonable to bring an incident under control, and use deescalation techniques when dealing with protesters. Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, who took office in January 2017, has successfully pushed for implicit bias training, a stronger use-of-force policy, and expanded the use of body cameras to the entire police force.

That the officers who killed Sterling have not been charged is by no means the end of this fight. There are questions that must be answered about Sterling’s death, and we demand that all body camera and surveillance footage of the incident be released. We demand accountability, equal justice, and an end to racialized policing.

Alton Sterling didn’t have to die on the pavement that night. The Baton Rouge police officers chose aggression. They chose to shoot Sterling six times. We must address and dismantle the conditions that led the officers to use deadly force when it was not needed or legal. We must end the epidemic of police violence once and for all — and bring accountability to this broken system.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

This is a test. Are you blocking my comments ?

Scott

You’re an idiot. Sorry, but that’s what you are.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Scott, it takes one to know one doesn't it?

Anonymous

Did the Justice Department during the Obama Administration actually bring any charges against any of the cops it investigated? I don't remember a single case of them doing so. It's hard to meet the standards that would allow the successful prosecution of a police officer. Also, they tased Mr. sterlng a couple of times and it didn't phase him. That's not a good sign. I remember when PCP was popular back in the 90s and people would keep coming at the police after they were tased and even shot a couple of times.

Anonymous

#1 What does the Obama administration have to do with anything in this entire f***ing story?
#2 The police should not have the right to kill anyone simply because they are not following orders. When did disobedience become an offense that you die for?

Anonymous

How is Obama involved? LOL

Anonymous

Typical rightwing CON deflection. Like how you pull out the "PCP" defense, the same crap you guys were using in 90's to justify the murder committed by police officers. It was BS then and it's not even relevant anymore, particularly to this case, yet you bring up again as a theory. You racist thugs really could care less how many unarmed black men the police kill. It's been happening since the beginning of the US slave trade and nothing could make you happier.

Anonymous

Jeh Johnson was extremely motivated to prosecute several officers that were involved in shootings. If an AG who most would agree was giving it 110% couldn't do it that implies that it's very difficult. That is what the Obama Administration has to do with this - I'm using them to give scale to the difficulty an AG faces when it comes to prosecuting police officers. I DID NOT cast the Obama Administration in a bad light or criticize them so swearing at me was uncalled for and unproductive. What is productive is determining what the actual problem is and, since it appears that the problem is the difficulty of the process, tackling the actual problem.

Anonymous

If I remember correctly, PCP was not exclusive to black people - not even close. Crack was the drug associated with poor, inner -city, blacks in the 90s (I didn't say it was true that they were the only ones doing it because they weren't - just that it was associated with them). Also, it is relevant as some of those synthetic drugs have had similar effects to PCP and they don't always show up on a tox-screen. A WHITE woman in Tennessee bashed her toddlers head in on a freeway a few years ago and a bunch of people (of all races) using FLAKKA down in Florida have stripped naked and tried to physically break n to police station and cop cars - one actually impaled himself. There are drugs that make people extremely dangerous even if they aren't armed. I lived down in Detroit in the 90s (Vernor and Livernois area) and saw the effects of PCP first hand and it was scary.

Anonymous

Alton Sterling was a long time criminal who was armed at the time of this incident and was making motions to obtain his gun while resisting arrest and fighting the police. The ACLU of all people should know the basis for Deadly Force. He played the game and lost. The officers were cleared as they should have been. Im sure some State charges will be trumped up to make the locals happy, however. THATS the only tragedy here.

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