Black Lives Matter

Police in Baton Rouge fatally shot Alton Sterling at point-blank range.

Police In Baton Rouge Fatally Shot Alton Sterling At Point-Blank Range

Alton Sterling was selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana late Tuesday night when two officers pinned him to the ground and shot him multiple times at point-blank range. The 37-year-old father of five died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back moments after a witness captured the incident on camera.

The officers were responding to a call about a man selling CDs and wearing a red shirt who was said to have threatened someone with a gun. Although both officers were wearing body cameras, the Baton Rouge Police Chief reportedly told Louisiana State Rep. Denise Marcelle that the cameras fell off during the incident. Both officers have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard department policy according to police officials. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Sterling is the most recent of far too many black lives lost at the hands of police officers. In 2015, police killed at least 248 black people in the United States. Sterling was the 114th black man killed by police in the 186 days of 2016 so far. He wasn’t even the only black, 37-year-old, father of five to be killed by police in the last month. On June 18th, Antwun “Ronnie” Shumpert was shot four times by a police officer after he fled his car during a routine traffic stop in Tupelo, Mississippi.

As alarming as the stunning rate at which police officers are killing people—especially people of color—is the number of officers involved in these killings who receive little or no punishment. In 2015, approximately 1,200 people were killed by police across the country and no officer was convicted of murder or manslaughter. The lack of charges in the Freddie Gray case is just one of the many egregious examples highlighting the truth that all lives are not equal under current law.

Earlier this spring, Louisiana became the first state to pass a so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bill, which makes attacking a law enforcement officer a hate crime. The law extends beyond direct assaults on a police officer to cover crimes including “institutional vandalism” and “criminal property damage,” protections meant to shield houses of worship. That means that Louisiana’s Blue Lives Matter bill could be used to target damage done to police vehicles or protests on police property, like the sit-in at the Minneapolis Police Department over the death of Jamar Clark, or the Black Lives Matter blockade of the Oakland Police headquarters in California.

So far the growing protests in Baton Rouge have remained peaceful, and it is not clear that the Baton Rouge Police Department will react to protesters violently or that they will try to invoke the Blue Lives Matter law. But it is clear that more action can be taken at a policy level to address the problems in our criminal justice system.

BOTTOM LINE: Too many black lives have been lost at the hands of those meant to protect them. Strong grassroots movement and high-profile conversations about racial bias and police brutality are the foundation of meaningful change, but more can be done to address the problems in our criminal justice system.

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