Protests have erupted in Baton Rouge, La., after footage of a black man being pinned to the ground and shot to death by police in the early hours of Tuesday morning was posted online. Bystander footage appears to show Alton Sterling, 37, being shot and killed after being restrained by two officers and Tasered to the ground. While the officers in the video can be heard saying Sterling brandished a gun, eyewitnesses and the cellphone footage do not appear to corroborate this account.
Since the clip began to circulate on social media Tuesday, the Baton Rouge Police Department has suspended the two officers involved. Sterling's aunt, Sandra, who raised Alton after his mother's death, told the Washington Post today that she wants her nephew's death to be taken as seriously as a recent case in which a white child was shot and killed by police in Louisiana: "I want the same treatment y’all are giving that person in Marksville that killed that little white baby. I want that same kind of justice," Sandra Sterling told the paper.
She's referring to the death of six-year-old Jeremy Mardis, who was killed in a November 2015 police-involved shooting. Two police officers, both on duty during a shift on their second jobs as city marshals, opened fire during a car chase with Mardis' father, Christopher Few, killing Mardis. The incident happened on a Tuesday. The officers who shot Mardis was charged with second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder by Friday that same week.
So far in Baton Rouge, the officers, identified as Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake II, have not been charged. Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a spokesperson for the department, told reporters last night they had not yet been called in for questioning because the department “[gives] officers normally a day or so to go home and think about it."
After another press conference Wednesday afternoon, District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III said the officers had been interviewed by the police department with their lawyers present. He said they maintained that they had acted appropriately when they shot Sterling. “The officers feel they were completely justified,” Moore told The Advocate.
The local NAACP has called for the resignation of Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and Police Chief Carl Dabadie Junior. And the federal Department of Justice has just announced that it will conduct a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
For Sterling's family, the criminal justice system's bias against black Americans is clear: from the way Sterling was treated, to the way the police department has responded so far. And the prospect of justice still seems uncertain.
“I don’t think they would have did that to a white person,” Neco Sterling, Alton's cousin, told the Post.
This post has been updated to reflect the latest information on the officers involved in Sterling's shooting having been interviewed.