Regarding Alton Sterling

Next up in the line of controversial shootings involving the police is the case of Alton Sterling.

The facts:

  • 911 was called regarding a man threatening someone with a gun
  • Police arrived and confronted Alton Sterling who matched the suspect description given to the 911 operator.
  • A taser was used in an attempt to subdue Sterling and was ineffective
  • Sterling continued to resist arrest and was tackled to the ground
  • Sterling was told to not move and continued moving his right arm
  • Sterling was shot and killed.

Now, I already know that this article is going to do absolutely nothing to change the minds of those folks who have already decided the officers were wrong.  We’ve seen this time and time and time again whether it’s Ferguson or Freddie Gray or Eric Garner, no amount of facts, no amount of laws, no amount of reason is going to change the minds of those who think first and foremost with their emotions and whose primary lens that they view the world through is a lens of skin color.

That’s not the point.  The point is to eliminate the straw men arguments from those folks’ reasoning and to hopefully educate.  Perhaps one or two objective minded folks will read this and learn something and think about it going forward when the next controversial shooting occurs.

 

Here’s the video…

 

First and foremost the video is gruesome to watch.  I think we can all agree on that.  Watching a man’s last moments is never going to look “good.”  And I bring that up for a reason.  That initial gut wrenching feeling you have when watching it is often where the thinking starts and stops in these cases.  Because it’s sickening to look at it, that’s all some folks need to know in order to automatically bring the gavel down and declare the officers guilty of cold blooded execution.

This is where you have to set aside your emotion and THINK.  Put yourself in a cop’s shoes for 38 seconds and actually think about it.  They know there’s a strong likelihood that Sterling has a gun because that’s the entire reason 911 was called.  So that’s in their minds before they even arrive.  We don’t have video of what happened when the officers initially confronted Sterling, but it’s safe to say things didn’t go well.

Here’s Sterling’s arrest record.  What isn’t mentioned is that he is also an alleged member of the Bloods gang.  I’m posting it because it’s going to play a factor here.  It’s not to say that Sterling deserved to be shot for any of these arrests so you can squash that thought right now if you’re going there.

arrestrecord

The importance of his arrest record is this: Sterling is a convicted felon who is prohibited from even owning a gun much less carrying one in his pocket.  And yes, a gun was recovered from his pocket.

Having said that and knowing Sterling’s long rap sheet, he knows full well that if those officers find that gun on him he’s going back to prison.  The thought of going back to prison has caused many a person to resist arrest, Sterling was no different.

Now let’s go back to the video.  The taser didn’t work, so one of the officers goes hands on and tackles him to the ground.  At this point the other officer jumps in to pin his left arm and head.  That’s where this particular video picks up although there’s another one that shows the tackle, etc.

Now if you listen closely you can hear one of the officers say, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” in a panicked voice.  I don’t know how the officer figured that out, perhaps he felt it through Sterling’s pocket, but he knew it.  And you can see a tangible difference in the officers demeanor the second that realization is made.  The pucker factor went from 7 to 10 in a heart beat.

The officer pinning Sterling’s left arm says, “Hey boss, if you (expletive) move I swear to God…”  then the other officer says something indistinct but you can tell by the fear and panic in his voice that he’s terrified.

Now watch the video again, and just a fraction of a second before he says “He’s got a gun!” watch Sterling’s right sleeve.  You can see it moving up and down, indicating that the officer did not have control of Sterling’s arm.  So the officer knows Sterling has a gun and knows that he doesn’t have control of his right arm, which is statistically most likely his strong hand.

That my friends would leave ANY reasonable person to be in fear for their lives.  The shooting is justified.  If Sterling had simply complied with every lawful order given to him the moment the police arrived, he would’ve been peaceably handcuffed.  He would have gone back to prison undoubtedly, but he’d be alive.  Once again, the SUSPECT’S actions ultimately led to his own demise, just like we saw with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Mario Woods, Sam Dubose, etc. etc. etc.

Now some want to say that 6 shots was excessive.  But if you watch the video again, after the initial 3 shots you can hear an officer scream “Get on the ground!”  It’s obvious that the first 3 shots were not enough to stop the threat that Sterling presented.  They wouldn’t have said “Get on the ground!” if Sterling was lying completely still.  It’s clear that he still presented a threat.  The video doesn’t show if he’s trying to get up, if he’s reaching for his pocket or what, but he still presents a threat so 3 more shots were taken which put a definite stop to the threat.

The next part of the video is important as well.  The officer closest to Sterling says “Shots fired!” through his radio, and then drops a very loud F-bomb.  That F-bomb tells me that the officer didn’t enjoy what he just had to do.  It tells me that he felt he was forced to do it.  If this was just a cold blooded execution I imagine they both would have been a bit more nonchalant about the whole thing or perhaps even jovial.  You see neither of those things here.  Instead you see the reaction you’d expect of someone that was both in fear of his life and upset that he was forced to go to that extreme.

I want to eliminate some of the other straw man arguments I’ve seen regarding this case.

  1. “Louisiana is an open carry state.”  That’s utterly irrelevant here because Sterling is a convicted felon prohibited from even owning a gun in a safe in his closet much less carrying one openly or in his pocket.  And even if Sterling wasn’t a felon and did legally own a gun, it’s still illegal to threaten someone with it which is what the 911 call was about.
  2. Sterling didn’t have a gun in his hand when he was shot.  Again, irrelevant.  If an officer knows you have a gun on you and you’re resisting arrest that’s already enough reason for the officer to fear for his life.  Especially if you’re already wrestling around on the ground.  Disagree?  Go pick a fist fight with some gang banger who you know carries a gun and tell me you aren’t afraid that he’ll pull it out and use it on you at any second.  It takes less than a second for someone to pull a gun and use it.
  3. He was shot for selling CD’s.  If you’re saying this, you’re completely dishonest.  He was not shot for selling CD’s.  Officers didn’t even confront him because he was selling CD’s.  They responded to a 911 call, you know, the kind of call that they’re obligated to investigate, because Sterling had allegedly threatened someone with a gun.  He was shot because he was armed and was resisting arrest and put those officers in fear of their lives.

I also want to address the officers’ body cameras.  It’s been reported that both of their cameras got knocked off during the struggle.  Obviously some people are already assuming that the officers took them off intentionally, despite no evidence that this is the case.  I’m sure the DOJ will look into that, but would it be asking too much to see what those body cameras actually recorded first before we jump to wild conclusions?  I know from experience that it’s easy for many things to become dislodged from the uniform during a struggle, including name tags, radios and yes, body cameras.  In fact you can see that the officer’s radio mic was dislodged from his uniform as it’s dangling by the cord when he gets off the ground.  Same thing might have happened to the body camera.  It sounds suspicious but it’s quite possible that the cameras actually were knocked off.  Let’s see what comes of that before we rush to judgement, is that asking too much?

Yes, I imagine it is.

 

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