Hundreds gathered all day Wednesday at the Triple S Food Mart, the site where a Baton Rouge police officer shot and killed Alton Sterling Tuesday, culminating in an early evening memorial to remember the man.
They lit candles, they released balloons, but mostly they vented their anger and demanded justice.
“This is new but it’s not news. This is not the first person the Baton Rouge Police Department has killed,” said activist Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed. “We are not anti-police. We are anti-injustice.”
The memorial, which began at 6 p.m., was preceded by protests at the convenience store on North Foster Drive, the second day people have protested at the site.
The crowd built as the hot summer day wore on Wednesday, to as many as 500 to 800 people. Many held signs saying “Justice for Alton,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Peace, No Justice.” A chorus of car horns signaled support from motorists passing by the store.
Jo Hines, a local artist, painted a mural depicting Sterling’s face on the wall of the store, his back to the hubbub unfolding behind him. He held a picture of Sterling in one hand and painted with the other.
Meanwhile, a phalanx of media outlets from across the U.S. crowded around the store to cover the day’s events.
Baton Rouge police on Wednesday named the two officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, who were involved in the altercation with Sterling that led to the shooting. They have said only one officer fired his weapon, but have not identified which officer it was.
Like many, Nicole Perkins knew Sterling well as the “CD man,” who had been selling discount videos for years in front of the food mart. Perkins said she bought some Monday night, just hours before the shooting.
“He ain’t no problem to nobody,” she said. “He was real nice.”
She said she heard about the shooting early Tuesday morning, not long after it happened. Later that day, she saw the first video showing Sterling shot. And then Wednesday, she saw the second video that emerged showing the same scene, but from a different angle. She said she wants action taken right away against the police officers.
“They should be locked up right now,” Perkins said.
Several of Sterling’s family members were present throughout the day. His aunt, Sandra Sterling, was distraught and barely able to speak by the time the memorial started. She passed out a few minutes before the event. She broke down again as she approached the stage, pointing in tears to the spot where Sterling was shot.
She said seeing the second video that showed her nephew’s killing took her over the edge.
“I’m so angry!” she shouted at the crowd. “I’m so angry!”
Keon Preston, who helped organize the prayer memorial for Sterling and has organized many similar memorials in the past, said he’s fine with it becoming more of a protest.
“I saw that second video,” Preston said. “I’m so outraged.”
The memorial also doubled as something of a political rally.
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, who was the first of many local political leaders to speak, set the tone. She urged people to be peaceful and show respect.
“This is not Ferguson,” Marcell said. “This is Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”
Marcelle thanked Gov. John Bel Edwards for urging the U.S. Department of Justice to take over the investigation. But she said she would remain vigilant.
“I won’t stop until we find out who is responsible and we see justice,” Marcelle said.
Marcelle and at least one other candidate for Baton Rouge mayor, former state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, were present.
Current East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden, however, did not show, prompting some in the crowd to shout, “Where’s Kip?”
Metro Councilman LaMont Cole, who represents that area of north Baton Rouge where the shooting occurred, like Marcelle urged the crowd to be civil, noting that the world was watching. But he went further than Marcelle in casting blame.
“If you are born a coward, just because you put on a badge and carry a gun does not make you not be a coward,” Cole said. “Those two officers who perpetrated this brutal attack and then murdered this young man are cowards.”