From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:
Another Police Shooting; Another Day the News Feels Like It’s In Reruns
Brace yourselves: here comes another national discussion about whether police regularly shoot unarmed black men without justification. Here’s the Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper, trying to put it all into context:
In the end, Alton Sterling lay nearly spread-eagle on the pavement outside the Triple S Food Mart early Tuesday, a wide bloodstain on the front of his red shirt as a police officer called on his radio, “Shots fired. Shots fired,” then shouted an expletive.
Moments before, Sterling, pinned to the ground, had been struggling with two Baton Rouge police officers on top of him.
Then at least six shots rang out.
The scene was captured in the second cell-phone video to emerge of the shooting of Sterling, a 37-year-old man who sold compact discs in front of the Triple S store. The video, released Wednesday, a day after the first one was widely disseminated, adds snippets of context to the moments before and immediately after Sterling was shot.
Joel Porter, the lawyer for Triple S owner Abdullah Muflahi, said his client shot the second video. Muflahi didn’t turn it over to the Baton Rouge Police Department because he doesn’t trust the agency, Porter said, adding that the video has been given to the FBI.
Officers showed up about 12:35 a.m. Tuesday at the Triple S Food Mart on North Foster Drive after an anonymous caller reported a man in a red shirt selling CDs outside the store had ordered someone off the property at gunpoint, police have said.
Muflahi has told The Advocate that Sterling was armed but was not holding his gun or touching his pockets during the incident. Muflahi said police pulled a gun from Sterling’s pocket after the shooting. Initial results of an autopsy performed Tuesday show Sterling died from multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back.
Neither the first nor second video provides a clear shot of Sterling’s hands, but an officer can be seen struggling with the man’s right arm before the shooting. After the shooting, an officer can be seen taking something from Sterling’s right pants pocket.
The first video, publicized Tuesday, shows two officers confronting Sterling then wrestling him to the ground. The camera lens turns away after the first shots.
The second video, shot from a different angle than the first, starts after Sterling is brought to the ground in front of a parked sedan and shows more of what happened after he was shot. At first, a prone Sterling can be seen picking his head up as officers kneel over and appear to struggle with him.
This particular coincidence emits an odor:
Police Lt. Jonny Dunnam says the body-cam footage may not be as good as investigators hoped for because the cameras became dislodged during the altercation. The head of the ACLU Louisiana says serious questions need to be asked about whether body cameras were working properly.
Louisiana ACLU executive director Marjorie Esman wants to know if the officers were trained in how to properly fasten the cameras. She says right when they were needed the most is when two of them malfunctioned in the same way.
Some will find the perspective of the first person recording the event to be significant:
… that was not the case with the first video that surfaced from Baton Rouge Tuesday afternoon, which showed a white police officer fatally shooting Alton Sterling.
That video, which caused nationwide outrage after it went viral on social media, was actually filmed by a member of an organized group that specifically seeks out violent crimes using police scanners with the intention of filming them, not for the purpose of exposing police but to deter young people from crime.
Early Tuesday morning, members of the group, called Stop the Killing Inc., followed a call they overheard on police scanners to the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge. There, they filmed the shooting that has created a nationwide furor.
The group’s founder, 43-year-old Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, made the decision to upload the video of Sterling’s shooting on social media Tuesday afternoon.
The Washington Post compiled a database of all police shootings in the country and found 990 people were shot dead by police in 2015. Of those, only 93 were unarmed; 38 were black and unarmed. Of the 505 people shot dead by police in 2016 so far, 37 were unarmed; 13 were black and unarmed.
In the New York Times, Roxanne Gay contends black lives have stopped mattering and “this brand of tragedy has become routine.”
I watched the cellphone video, shot by a bystander and widely available online, of the final moments of a black man’s life. I watched Alton Sterling’s killing, despite my better judgment. I watched even though it was voyeuristic, and in doing so I made myself complicit in the spectacle of black death. The video is a mere 48 seconds long, and it is interminable. To watch another human being shot to death is grotesque. It is horrifying, and even though I feel so resigned, so hopeless, so out of words in the face of such brutal injustice, I take some small comfort in still being able to be horrified and brought to tears.
We know what happens now because this brand of tragedy has become routine… Law enforcement, militarized and indifferent to black lives, is the problem. Law enforcement that sees black people as criminals rather than human beings with full and deserving lives is the problem.
Only a handful of the hundreds of police shootings each become national news; as soon as one does, quite a few people line up on one side or another, pro or anti-police, and insist the case proves their argument that applies to law enforcement as a whole.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund calculates that there are more than 900,000 law enforcement officers in the United States. Obviously, there are bad cops in those ranks. Equally obviously, most cops are good people, willing to risk their lives to ensure the safety of the public and the vast majority go through their careers never firing a shot in anger.
But for some reason, some will point to this and say, “ah-ha, more evidence that cops are racist and murder with impunity!” And some people will insist the public criticism of the police and scrutiny of the shooting is cop-bashing, and that none of us who live under the police’s protection have the right to second-guess the decisions made by those who protect us.