Protests were held Wednesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the wake of the shooting of 37-year-old black man Alton Sterling by police. Protesters first gathered at the scene of the shooting Tuesday night and remained throughout Wednesday as a candlelight vigil was held.
Participants posted images and videos to Twitter showing people lining the streets outside of the Triple S Food Store where Sterling was shot. There, crowds of protesters held signs and chanted as passing cars honked their horns to show support. Some participants handed out water from the back of a truck as it passed through the street.
At the vigil, members of Sterling’s family expressed anger and grief while calling for peace and solidarity from the community.
“I’m angry, and I’m mad, because they took something from me that I’ll never get back,” said Sandra Sterling, speaking at the vigil for her nephew. “So y’all pray for me, but we’ve got to have peace and unity out here.”
Similar calls for peace and unity were echoed throughout the day, and so far, the protests have remained peaceful.
However, in spite of the restraint shown by protesters Wednesday, the nature of Sterling’s death places it at the forefront of an ongoing struggle against the disproportionate use of lethal force against black citizens in the U.S.
— Laura Bicker (@BBCLBicker) July 7, 2016
Sterling was shot Tuesday evening after being approached by two police officers outside of the Triple S, where he was known for selling CDs. WAFB-TV reports that the officers were responding to a 911 call about a man allegedly making threats with a gun.
Two videos shot by local bystanders have since emerged showing the officers wrestling Sterling to the ground and pinning him down before shooting him multiple times at close range, ending his life. The videos of Sterling’s death have raised a number of questions about the decision by the officers to use lethal force. Many, including Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the Triple S, claim that Sterling was murdered outright.
The second video, taken by Muflahi himself and released by NBC News here, shows one of the officers pinning Sterling’s torso to the ground while the other officer holds Sterling’s legs. The second officer yells “He’s got a gun! Gun!” Then, the first officer draws his side arm and yells “Hey bro, you f**king move and I swear to God!” At least two gunshots follow as the yelling becomes unintelligible.
The camera moves away from the officers and Sterling as the scene becomes chaotic, but the gunshots continue. When the camera returns, Sterling is seen bloodied, grasping his chest. Although police say they removed a gun from Sterling’s pocket after the shooting, he does not appear to be holding a weapon at any point during the struggle.
Muflahi told CNN that the tapes from his security cameras were taken by police before he could see them. Further, while both of the officers involved were wearing body cameras, they became dislodged during the struggle and reportedly failed to record the incident in full.
It is unknown if either source of footage will provide further context to the circumstances surrounding the shooting. However, The Advocate reports that the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI are now leading a civil rights investigation into the actions of the officers involved, and promising transparency in the process.
It remains to be seen whether the DOJ investigation will lead to charges against either of the officers. But in light of similar incidents in recent history, which failed to result in charges against the police officers involved, many remain skeptical that Sterling’s community will get the justice that they’re asking for.
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