Two weeks after watching the video of Alton Sterling's deadly confrontation with Baton Rouge police officers Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake, I feel a lot of emotion. I have a couple of observations and questions, too.
I wondered what people who questioned the need to shoot Sterling were feeling when they read a recent story about a man who stabbed a Louisiana chief of police in the face. I think, given the track record of confrontations between African-Americans and the police, black people would expect the next sentence in the story to be that the man was dead.
Well, that person, who was not a minority, is alive, with nary a bullet wound. And, judging by the jail photo of him, the guy didn’t get "tuned up," as they used to say on the old TV police show “Hill Street Blues” — a euphemism for being beaten.
We generally love our law enforcement officers and first responders. They are brave and take risks we won’t. Those men and women chose the honorable profession of heroes and face the daily uncertainty that they may not go home one day.
Here are some of my observations:
Please remember that the call to the police department starting the Sterling incident was about “a man with a gun.” I have witnessed three and four police officers show up for a drunk guy singing in the street. But for a call about a person with a gun, only two police officers showed up.
Wouldn’t it have been safer and smarter for all involved if five or more officers had shown up to face a man with a gun? If there are not enough police on duty, ask the sheriff’s office to send deputies to boost the numbers. I hope there is that kind of cooperation between the law enforcement agencies.
My guess is, that with overwhelming numbers, the deadly wrestling match wouldn't have happened.
But before all of the grabbing, cursing and gun-pointing by Salamoni, something didn't happen. No one patted down Sterling for the gun they police were told he had.
During the wrestling match when the officers are on top of Sterling, Lake announced, with surprise, “gun.” Isn’t that the reason they were called out?
It was never made clear whether Sterling was reaching for the gun or that Lake felt it in the Sterling’s pocket when he announced “gun.” A split second later, Salamoni was pumping numerous gun shots into Sterling’s chest at point-blank range.
Officials have said that had Sterling complied, he might not have been shot. I understand that. But not complying does not mean the person has to die.
That was proven the next day when the police chief in Turkey Creek was slashed in the face by a man he was attempting to arrest.
My guess is that a vote taken at an African American barbershop would be unanimous that if the slasher had been black, his funeral would have been held several days after the incident.
There's been another recent law enforcement case that makes one wonder. No, not the Sacramento, California, incident, where police officers claimed they feared for their lives because they believed a cellphone a man was carrying as he ran from them was a gun, so they shot him six times in the back. They actually fired around 20 times at him.
No, this was a financial settlement reached in a lawsuit against the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office in the 2014 death of a black man in sheriff’s custody.
The man was in the back seat of the sheriff’s car. Presumably, he had been checked for weapons and contraband before he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. Deputies said he was able to get a gun from somewhere, contort himself so that he could get his arms to the front of himself and turn the weapon toward the front of his body and shoot himself in the chest.
A forensic pathologist said, under oath, that it was possible for the gunshot to be self-inflicted in the chest even though the man’s hands were handcuffed behind his back. Case closed on the deputies.
Back to the Sterling case. Law enforcement was quick to show that Sterling had a rap sheet. Also, there was information provided about the drugs he had in his system at the time he died.
I am confused about this. Were samples of the officers’ blood taken after the shooting?
The Sterling video, the other cases mentioned and dozens more across the country continue to raise questions about police tactics involving people of color. It also gives rise to the contention that the court system needs only to hear the words from police that “I feared for my life” and automatically the officers are exonerated.
Everyone supports law enforcement. But, they are not perfect. And, the actions of some and that of the court system raises infinite questions about how African-Americans are treated.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at email@example.com.