We’ve had another incident of police officers shooting a black suspect (identified as Alton Sterling), this time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and protests are already erupting in the streets. In this case, based only on witness cell phone video and very early reports from the cops and people in the immediate area, there may well be good reason for such protests and calls for a thorough investigation. Stressing yet again that this story is still in the very early stages and much more needs to be clarified, the picture being painted is one of cops doing the exact opposite of the right thing.
A video showing two white police officers involved in a deadly altercation with a 37-year-old black man in Baton Rouge circulated across the Internet early Wednesday morning, prompting peaceful street protests in the city and anger elsewhere.
The video showed two Baton Rouge police officers attempting to detain Alton Sterling after the officers responded to a call “from a complainant who stated that a black male who was selling music cd’s and wearing a red shirt threatened him with a gun” outside the Triple S Food Mart, a convenience store, a Facebook post by Baton Rouge Police Department said. Police said they responded about 12:35 a.m. Tuesday.
Sterling was shot and killed while pinned down by the officers.
We’ll get to the video below, but there are a number of troubling elements to this story, many of which are confirmed by the police. It’s alleged that Sterling was selling CD’s outside of a convenience store and the initial report received by the cops was that he had threatened a passerby with a gun. But at least from the video footage, there was no gun in Sterling’s hands or even visible when the altercation took place. He was initially hit with a Taser (possibly twice) and then pinned to the ground, at which point some confusion ensues and someone calls out that he’s got a gun and Sterling is subsequently shot multiple times in both the back and the chest. A witness reports seeing the cops removing a gun from Sterling’s pocket after he’s already been shot.
As noted above, these reports will require corroboration, but there are other troubling details which have been verified. The officers were equipped with body cameras, but the initial response from the police department was that the cameras had “come loose” during the scuffle so there may not be useful footage available. While I suppose that’s possible, at least for one officer if the equipment wasn’t properly affixed, multiple incidents of such a failure are possible but begin to call the credibility of the story into question. There was also a security camera (or possibly more than one) on the premises of the convenience store. Rather than requesting the footage, it’s being reported that the police removed the equipment entirely and took it with them. That doesn’t look very good either.
Since we’ve covered too many of these events here before, I’ll repeat what I’ve said on most occasions. The vast majority of shootings by police are justified, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are. While our first responders are, by and large, some of the finest people in the nation, you do unfortunately get some bad apples in every barrel or at least cases where extremely poor judgement crosses the line into criminal behavior. It’s too early to come to a conclusion here until we see what other video evidence is available (if any) and all the fact are in, but the initial signs indicate that this may indeed have been a horribly bad shoot on the part of the cops. Even if we are to assume that Alton Sterling was illegally selling music CD’s, and even if the gun he carried was illegal, if he didn’t draw on the cops it very well may prove impossible to justify shooting him while he was pinned to the ground. If that’s the case, the public will be right in demanding a complete investigation and potentially the prosecution of the officers involved. If further evidence develops which either exonerates or condemns the police we’ll do a follow-up post to cover that as well.
Here’s the cell phone video of the incident. It comes with the usual warning that the content may be disturbing to some viewers.