Another day in America, another police shooting. This time the victim is a man named Alton Sterling, and like many other cases there is graphic video evidence to the event. The case is not clear cut at this point, but it doesn’t really need to be to arouse suspicion. A dangerous culture has infected America’s police forces, and the case of Alton Sterling is another example in an ever growing list.
Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Apparently a 9-11 call was made regarding a man wearing a red shirt selling CDs outside a convenience store. Sterling does fit the profile, as he was wearing a red shirt and was selling music CDs outside of a store. Sterling was pinned down by police officers while the potential arrest was being filmed by two different angles.
Sterling was effectively pinned, and then suddenly we hear the officers say “he’s got a gun!” The police draw their pistols and aim them directly at Sterling’s chest. Two separate rounds of shots were fired, which at this point seem to be from the police. Sterling was shot at point-blank range while pinned to the ground by multiple police officers.
In this case, Sterling did have a gun on him. However, it is not clear at all if Sterling tried to reach for his gun while the police had him pinned down. None of the videos show Sterling with a gun in his hand or reaching for a gun, and even the owner of the convenience store claimed that he never saw Sterling reach for a gun and that the police were aggressive from the moment they arrived. It should also be noted that the owner of the shop was not the one to call the police, so clearly the shop owner never felt threatened by Sterling’s presence.
Of course, the police have leaked Sterling’s arrest record (per usual when they are caught in a media shitstorm over another questionable shooting). Sterling does have an extensive record, but I am unaware of any law that makes having an arrest record a capital offense. Of course the police claim that killing Sterling was a result of them fearing for their lives because he supposedly reached for a gun. The central problem, as with many cases, is that police are trained to be too liberal in using lethal force during confrontations.
It is absolutely the case that, across America, police are trained to shoot first and ask questions later in regards to conflicts they engage in. Great journalism has revealed that police manuals literally train their officers to treat the citizenry as enemies to occupy rather than their community members to protect. This attitude is especially prevalent in minority communities, where the police act as an occupying army rather than protectors.
The problem is that police are trained to take no risk to their life, and to shoot to kill in any perceived threat. It is usually unfair to generalize, but we see these behaviors replicate across the country, so at this point it would be near scandalous not to speak in the general nature of this problem. Police are hastily trained, and are taught never to risk their own life. Police seem to believe that their job is merely to survive the day, as if their communities were a war zone.
The reality is, no, the job of police is not merely to survive the day. Their job is to protect and serve, and to put their life on the line for this cause. Of course police have a potentially dangerous job, but they should be aware of that before signing up.
The job is to de-escalate conflict, not shoot dead any perceived threat or slight against you. If the threat is clear and present, then of course force is justified. But, we see countless examples of police not taking any risk before killing someone. I’m sorry, but your job should require you to take that risk. Police are not soldiers, and America is not a warzone. If that is police mentality, then no wonder why these tragedies happen so frequently.
Also, there is indeed a racial component to many of these deaths by police. While both blacks and whites commit an equal amount of crimes, the police reaction is almost generally targeted to black communities. That’s not to say whites have not been victims of police brutality, the overwhelming numbers are that blacks suffer disproportionately from police brutality than whites.
The examples of black Americans being killed by police over small circumstances and in questionable ways are too much to simply ignore. The fact that justice is rarely administered against the police in these cases is also staggering.
Police do target minorities more than whites, and perceive them to be more of a direct threat and source of suspicion. One great YouTube experiment showed a scenario in which both a black man and white man (on separate occasions) were open-carrying an assault rifle in public (which was legal where the scenarios were filmed). The black man was set upon aggressively by the police and was commanded immediately to drop the weapon and get on the ground. The white man was not threatened in such a way in the same incident.
Alton Sterling didn’t deserve to die or be treated in such a brutal way for selling CDs, which the store owner did not seem to mind. Eric Garner didn’t deserve to die for selling cigarettes, nor did Tamir Rice need to die for playing with a toy. In case, after case, we see a disproportionate set of violence against the powerless by police. Is it necessary to ride up on someone selling CDs (even if illegal) and conduct such aggression? Wouldn’t it have been wiser to simply approach him and tell him to move along? Was such a response needed?
Yet again we have another debate over police brutality, and more than likely it will end the way the others did. The officers in question will be given paid leave, the will be defended by their superiors, and the media will not question it, there will either be no trial or they will be found not guilty and the story quietly left for another cycle. What a sad state America is in.