Justice must be advanced in Tuesday’s Baton Rouge Police Department shooting death of Alton Sterling. That’s why government and community leaders were right to push for an independent investigation after unsettling video of the incident came to light.
“The video is disturbing, to say the least,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
His reaction has been shared by many across Baton Rouge and, indeed, around the world. We welcome the decision brokered by the governor to have a federal investigation of the shooting.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division will be the lead agency in the probe. The governor promised that the investigation would have the support of state and local agencies.
Edwards called on law enforcement to “impartially, professionally and thoroughly” investigate the early-morning incident involving two officers. Across the United States, similar tragedies have boiled into more violence because the response of officialdom lacked credibility. We don’t want that to happen here, and it doesn’t have to.
As of today, details surrounding the shooting remain unclear. For police officers, the victim’s family and friends, and the larger community, a transparent federal investigation can provide the knowledge of what actually happened and why. We’re heartened that East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden, police Chief Carl Dabadie and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III publicly embraced such a probe.
What we do know is that two officers responded to a call and, according to 911 tapes, were told that a man at the store was brandishing a gun. To assess the events at the scene requires evidence vastly greater than a single video. We’d urge citizens not to make a rush to judgment until all the facts are known.
Sterling’s death has attracted international attention and raised tensions between police and members of the largely black Baton Rouge neighborhood where the shooting took place. It’s a big setback for efforts such as BRAVE, a local program aimed at building cooperation between police and residents of high-crime areas in the common cause of fighting crime.
Bridges, not barriers, should be the goal as this case moves forward. For better or worse, how residents react to this tragedy will shape the standing of Baton Rouge and Louisiana around the globe. What we need is a community-wide discussion that promotes good police policy, not political theater.
Alton Sterling is dead. No one can bring him back.
We best honor his memory by not being overcome by anger and emotion but by responding as a community to the cause of justice.