Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old man who was shot and killed by police on video after selling music, was a regular at the store where he died—known to residents as the “CD man.”
A graphic video captured Tuesday night showed a confrontation between Sterling and two police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital, drawing comparisons between he and other black men killed by police, including Walter Scott, Laquan McDonald, and Eric Garner.
— Cato Institute (@CatoInstitute) July 6, 2016
1. Who Is Alton Sterling?
“He was nice. He wasn’t a bad guy,” his friend and customer Darian Gardner told The New Orleans Advocate. “He was respectable.”
Sterling was a father of five children, his sister, Mignon Chambers, told WAFB-TV. “I really wanna know more about what happened, about the whole situation, because my brother didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve it at all,” Chambers said.
“Just five minutes before, he walked into the store getting something to drink, joking around, (and we were) calling each other names,” store owner Abdullah Muflahi told CNN.
Sterling had been living at the Living Waters Outreach Ministries shelter, residents told the Advocate. His fellow residents recalled him as a friendly man who stayed clean, cooked for his friends, and sometimes sold CDs at the facility.
Records show Sterling was a registered sex offender after a 2000 conviction. He was also accused of several crimes dating back to 1996. He’d pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, simple criminal damage to property and unauthorized entry, as well as domestic abuse battery. His longest sentence appeared to come in 2009, when he was sentenced to five years on possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute and illegally carrying a weapon with a controlled dangerous substance.
2. How the Incident Unfolded
Baton Rouge police have not provided much information about what escalated the confrontation between Sterling and the officers involved, or what prompted the officer to fire his weapon.
A witness told The Advocate that police were “aggressive” and added that Sterling was armed but wasn’t holding his gun and didn’t have his hands in or around his pockets. Police later retrieved a gun from his pocket, Muflahi told the newspaeer.
Abdullah Muflahi, owner of store where Alton Sterling killed in BR, describes seeing shooting by officer pic.twitter.com/08ABnQwr6a
— Maya Lau (@mayalau) July 5, 2016
Baton Rouge police, via Facebook, offered a brief statement detailing the bare-minimum facts about the shooting. “Uniformed officers responded to a disturbance call from a complainant who stated that a black male who was selling music cd’s and wearing a red shirt threatened him with a gun,” it stated. “Sterling was shot during the altercation and died at the scene.”
The two officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave, as per normal protocol. An investigation is ongoing, police said.
3. What the Video Shows
A 48-second-long cellular phone video was captured by an onlooker, which was later circulated online. It shows an officer firing at least a round into a man’s chest outside the Triple S store.
At least four more shots can be heard as the camera moves away.
“Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” a police officer is heard shouting at the start of the video.
Two police officers are then seen wrestling a man in a red shirt against a car before pinning him to the ground.
One officer can be seen grabbing the man’s left arm down. However, his right arm is not visible.
“He’s got a gun! Gun,” the officer says, prompting the other officer take an object out of his holster. “You [expletive] move, I swear to God,” he then says as the second officer points his weapon at his chest. A flash is then seen from that officer’s weapon—along with the sound of gunshots.
“They shot him?” a man’s voice can be heard. “Yes!” a crying woman then says.
The video can be viewed here (warning: graphic and disturbing).
The shooting death has drawn the attention of the Black Lives Matter group, and Sterling’s name was trending on Twitter on Tuesday night. Hundreds gathered outside the store where he was shot, according to videos and photos posted on Twitter.
— Unity Black (@UnityBlackNews) July 6, 2016
— Bryn Stole (@BrynStole) July 6, 2016
— Bryn Stole (@BrynStole) July 6, 2016
5. What Officials Say
Congressman Cedric Richmond (D–La.) called on the Justice Department for an investigation, saying there are “a number of unanswered questions” about the incident.
“The video footage released today of the shooting of Alton Sterling by officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department was deeply troubling and has understandably evoked strong emotion and anger in our community,” he stated. “I share in this anger and join the community in the pursuit of justice. My prayers and thoughts are with Mr. Sterling’s family as they deal with this tragedy.”
Michael McClanahan, the head of the NAACP in Baton Rouge, called on the city’s police chief to resign.
“What I’m calling for today is that the chief law enforcement officer to fire the police chief,” McClanahan told The Associated Press. “He must step down. We cannot have anybody who allows this type of action to take place.”