To be explicitly clear, Anything L.A. Magazine doesn’t have a reporter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. None of us, me included, has personally witnessed the arrest or the killing of 37-year old Alton B. Sterling. We know as much as all of us have learned from news reports. I have however watched both of the bystander videos released to date and they are terrifying.
I’m not black. Anything L.A. Magazine dedicates a lot of attention to LAPD’s excellent work in protecting Los Angeles residents from crime. Personally, I never had any bad experience with the Police Department. I have no bias.
The two videos released till now, clearly show the murder of a man pinned to the ground by two armed police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The police officers are in complete control of the man in their custody. The man doesn’t act aggressively. I certainly don’t see him reaching for a gun or posing a threat to anyone. I see very clearly that a defenseless man is being shot point-blank by a police officer or police officers.
Police officers have stressful work. I’m sure they’re dealing with adrenaline surges. Obviously, they have to be aware of potential dangers to their safety. On several other occasions, I’ve taken a stand defending the police officers involved in fatal shootings. But in this specific case, I see no possible excuse or explanation for their actions. Shooting somebody who poses no threat point-blank is murder. This was no accident; no case of self defense.
According to the coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish, William Clark, Mr. Sterling died at the scene from gunshot wounds to the chest and back. No information was released clarifying whether a stun device was used during the apprehension of Mr. Sterling or whether the fatal shots were fired by one or both of the arresting officers.
No defenseless human being – of any color, for any reason – should be murdered: by anyone, including police officers; perhaps, especially police officers on whom we all depend for our safety.
I don’t know if Alton B. Sterling had a gun. I didn’t see him reach for a gun or threaten anyone with a gun. The reports say that he has been selling music CDs on the street. We don’t know whether the CDs were of legal or illegal origin. We don’t know whether he held a valid street vendor’s permit allowing him to sell merchandise on the street.
We are pretty certain however that no matter what his misdeeds may have been, none of them called for a death penalty. We are quite sure also that police officers are not authorized to carry out executions in general and without a trial in particular. The videos show cold-blooded murder of a man in police custody – a man who cannot defend himself – by the arresting officers. It isn’t he who should be judged but his killer / killers.
This is not a race or color issue. Seeing that a person apprehended by the police can be shot at point-blank range and killed in cold blood by police officers sends shivers down my spine. That’s against every law, human rights and basic human decency.
If instead of police officers, civilians were the perpetrators of this crime they’d be convicted of murder. In this case, the perpetrators were police officers, one would hope that abuse of authority will be an added charge.
Louisiana officials vowed an in-depth and transparent investigation. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the F.B.I. and the United States attorney’s office in Baton Rouge will conduct their own investigation.
Black or white, with criminal record or without, Alton B. Sterling was a human being, an American in America, someone’s son and someone’s father. Unless the police officers are punished to the full extent of the law, anyone could become their next victim: police will be feared and not looked up to as the public’s protector.
We share in the grief of Alton B. Sterling’s family. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
Anything L.A. Magazine’s Editor / E. Elrich