As many of you must know, there have been two more recent shootings of African American men, sparking widespread protest and vast media attention. The two men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, were both killed by police officers on July 5 and July 6, respectively. There were videos released of both of these shootings (Alton Sterling’s death is particularly brutal and graphic), and American people were forced to watch yet another incident of what seems to be police brutality and injustice. After news of these shootings was publicized, mass riots and protests broke out in Minnesota, Louisiana and New York. The Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) movement has once again taken center stage at these protests, as millions of BLM supporters are furious at the injustice that African Americans experience at the hands of law enforcement. As more and more protests erupt throughout the nation, it seems that what President Obama said is true; this is not a white problem, or a black problem, but an American problem.
While the investigation of the shootings are both in their very early stages and my opinion expressed herein is based on what has been publicized about the shootings to date, the video evidence of Alton Sterling’s death is particularly disturbing and damning of the police. Unlike other police brutality cases, such as in the case of Michael Brown, when there was no proof of his hands being up, the video of Sterling’s shooting appears to be damning evidence of excessive and unlawful use of police force. For those of you who have not seen it, Sterling appears to be arrested, before a light struggle with police officers ensues and he is brought to the ground. One officer appears to shout that Sterling has a gun, before pulling out his own firearm and threatening Sterling’s life. A few moments later, the officer puts the gun on Sterling’s chest before firing two shots directly into him. As the video turns away, four more shots are heard. The claim by the two white police officers involved that Sterling had a gun in a threatening position appears to be somewhat suspect. In the video, Sterling’s gun appears to be in his pocket and never in his hand. In a press conference the day after the shooting, both officers refused to comment on whether or not Sterling had possession of a gun. As for what caused the shooting, police officers Howie Lake and Blane Salamoni were called to the scene after a homeless man called 911 and stated that a man matching Sterling’s description had a gun in his hand. When the officers arrived, they found Sterling selling CDs in a parking lot. A struggle then ensued. While Sterling himself was not perfect; surely, he did not deserve to be shot. Self-defense has worked in favor of police in past police brutality cases, but in no way does it look here like police were defending themselves when shooting Sterling. The shooting of Sterling seems to be an execution!
As for Philando Castile’s death, Castile was driving in a car with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. Castile was pulled over by Officer Jeronimo Yanez, and when asked for his license and registration, told the officer that he had a licensed firearm in his vehicle. Castile was asked not to move. As Castile put his hands up, he was shot by the officer multiple times. Reynolds posted a video on Facebook after Castile was shot. The video shows a gravely injured Castile slumped over in his seat. Reynolds claims that no officer offered to help the clearly dying Castile.
It has been a tough week in America with what appears to be unjustified shootings of two African Americans, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Just yesterday, a “lone wolf gunman” fired on Dallas police officers who were on duty at a peaceful protest and killed five officers. The gunman stated that the police officers “had it coming” and that it was a “direct attack to the police force”. As we mourn the deaths of all the lives that were lost, we need to come together as a country and realize that America can and must do better. There is an much anger on the part of law enforcement in the country and on the part of the protesters and many minority communities. We are divided, but we cannot work to solve this problem and move forward if we are not unified. Police officers, who serve to protect us, should not be fired upon, especially during a peaceful protest. African Americans feel that police officers are targeting them, and they don’t feel protected under the law. Changes need to happen in America, as divided, we will fall.