I wish I could say that the murder of Alton Sterling at the hands of the police either surprised or shocked me. It did not. And not because of national trends but because of the nature of the Baton Rouge Police Department. I’ve written about their malefactions several time before at First Draft and little has changed.
It’s self-quotation time. The first one comes from a 2013 post entitled Caught Red Handed In Red Stick:
Baton Rouge has been steadily growing over the last 25 years. Even though the Gret Stet has had a slew of Governors who claim to hate guvmint, the Red Stick population explosion is largely due to, well, state guvmint. The local constabulary, however, remain mired in a more pastoral, rednecky past and have never quite adjusted to the reality that BR is an urban area.
That incident involved police gay bashing. A post from 2010, Red Stick, Night Stick involved a report on BRPD racist misconduct after Hurricane Katrina:
Baton Rouge was a seething pit of paranoia, fear and downright Xenophobia in September and October, 2005. They were convinced that they were being invaded by hordes of welfare cheats, gangbangers, liberals and whatnot from the big evil city of New Orleans. Red Stick has always had an inferiority complex vis a vis New Orleans, which was covered with a patina of contempt in the wake of Katrina. The BRPD hasn’t kept up very well with the changes in its own community, which has grown from a sleepy mid-sized guvmint/college/oil biz town into a sprawling urban area with all the usual problems that were exacerbated by the influx of New Orleanians. They’ve spent the last few years fighting the Advocate over the information contained in their files on post-K police misconduct and now we know why.
The inclination of BRPD and the East Baton Rouge Parish DA’s office is to circle the wagons and hope the storm will pass as it were. That’s why I’m pleased the US Justice Department and FBI have intervened so early in the process. I’d like to give props to Governor John Bel Edwards for his comments and support for the federalization of the investigation.
The one ray of hope emerging from this sorry episode is that the owner of the store is outraged by what he witnessed and intends to help hold BRPD accountable:
Muflahi, the owner and manager of the Triple S store, said he was there around midnight when he walked outside and saw two officers trying to pin Sterling to a car parked in a handicapped spot. The officers hit Sterling with a Taser, but he didn’t initially get to the ground, he said.
At some point Sterling was tackled to the ground on his back, with one officer pinning down his chest, and another pressing on his thigh, Muflahi said.
Muflahi, who said he was two feet away from the altercation, said an officer yelled “gun” during the scuffle. An officer then fired four to six shots into Sterling’s chest, he said.
“His hand was nowhere (near) his pocket,” Muflahi said, adding that Sterling wasn’t holding a weapon. After the shooting, an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and retrieved a handgun, Muflahi said.
“They were really aggressive with him from the start,” Muflahi said about the officers.
Sterling appeared to die quickly, Muflahi said. Just after the killing, the officer who fired the bullets cursed, and both officers seemed like they were “freaking out,” Muflahi said.
The store owner said he heard one of the officers say, “Just leave him.”
The fact that a solid citizen was an eyeball witness to the crime is every bit as important as the horrendous videos we’ve all seen. I am cautiously optimistic that this time justice will be served. I am, however, pessimistic that BRPD and EBR Parish DA Hillar Moore will change their ways without someone higher on the food chain coming down on them. Moore is an elected official but the Chief is not. Baton Rouge has an African-American Mayor/Parish President, Kip Holden. I hope he’ll hold his Police Chief accountable for the actions of his officers. This is not an isolated incident. That’s why heads should roll.
Being poor and black is not a crime; at least it should not be. R.I.P Alton Sterling.