This is who Alton Sterling was, before he was killed

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Alton Sterling is now known everywhere as a man who was killed by police in Baton Rouge, La. But before he became yet another symbol of police violence against black people, he was a 37-year-old man with a family and a complex life.


Sterling was raised by his aunt, Sandra Sterling, after his mother died. Elliott Sterling, Sandra's son, told The Washington Post that his cousin had a difficult childhood.

“He had a hard life. He didn’t have no mama, no daddy,” Elliott said. “He wasn’t stable at all. He lived day to day based on what he made.”

Sterling raised several children, including 15-year-old son Cameron Sterling, with Quinyetta McMillon, 31.

“As a mother, I have now been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what happened to his father that I can’t take away from him,” McMillon said during a Wednesday press conference. “He is at an age of understanding. I hurt more for him and his loss.”

Sterling was a known presence at the Triple S Food Mart, where he sold music CDs. Triple S employee Mufleh Alatiyat told The Associated Press that Sterling would often give CDs away for free or buy food or drinks for other customers.


Elliott Sterling told The Washington Post that his cousin was an adept salesman who knew his product very well.

“He was really good at selling those CDs,” Sterling told the Post. “If somebody asked for blues or country music, he’d know it all. He couldn’t make it in a regular job, but he could make it selling CDs. He could converse with everybody.”


One woman, Kimberly Lang, told she had bought CDs from Sterling in the past.

"If he's out here at 12:30 at night selling CDs, he ain't rich," Lang told "He's hustling. Getting money. Ain't nothing wrong with hustling."


The Advocate reported that Sterling had been living at a transitional housing center, Living Waters Outreach Ministries, for at least several months, according to other residents there. One of them, Calvin Wilson, 56, said Sterling had a second job as a cook.

“Whatever he cooked, he cooked enough for everybody,” Wilson told The Advocate.

Court records show Sterling had several run-ins with the law over the course of his life. Those include charges for aggravated battery, simple criminal damage to property and unauthorized entry, domestic abuse battery, carnal knowledge of a juvenile, failure to register as a sex offender, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and illegally carrying a weapon with a controlled dangerous substance. Those last two charges were in 2009 and earned him a five year prison sentence.


That rap sheet might color how some people see him. But as MSNBC's Chris Hayes pointed out:


Instead of receiving that due process, Sterling was shot dead while police had him pinned down to the ground. The Department of Justice is investigating his killing.