By Simone Hawthorne
Less than 10 months after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA, the US Department of Justice has announced that it will not be bringing any charges against the officers involved in the shooting.
On July 5, 2016, the 37 year old was selling CDs outside of a local convenient store when officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake responded to a call that someone had a gun. Allegedly, Sterling fit the description of the suspect. A video of the shooting show the officers atop of Sterling’s back, who was lying face down, when one of the officers called out “He’s got a gun.” In response, several shots were released into the father of five’s back. Officers later claimed that they had reason to believe Sterling was attempting to reach for a gun they saw jutting from Sterling’s pants pocket.
The recording of the killing, which quickly circulated on social media, coupled with the shooting of Philando Castile just a day later, led to protest and civil unrest in several major cities across the country. It seemed unquestionable that Sterling’s civil rights were violated. However, the decision not to press federal charges seems to put all of that in question. The federal government has long struggled to withhold federal charges in cases like this one, as the burden of evidence lies in proving the officers’ intent was to strip away rights, rather than it being an unfortunate consequence of the actions.
The issue here really is that the problem with intent is that it has to be overt in order to prove it. How many times have we said something cruel or hurtful or careless, and followed it up with “well I didn’t intend” to hurt you? The reality is that “intent” doesn’t matter. What matters are results. What matters is outcome. Whether or not the officers in this case, Eric Garner’s, Walter Scott’s, or any other case where a black or brown body is gunned down by police, intend to strip away civil rights, they do. And it is time that punishment of such recklessness be doled out.
Regardless of who you are, or what your stance is on these issues, we’re all sick and tired of having to #sayhisname, debate on the motivation behind police involved shootings, and come up with or even hear chants and slogans to try to encapsulate the feelings of frustration and fear in an entire community. No one WANTS this to be the norm. So it’s time we change the system and start holding people accountable. But the problem is, people don’t change if they’re comfortable. They only change when they have been stripped of the thing that has made them comfortable and passive. And if the federal government won’t assist in helping to create discomfort in these actions that repeatedly make it okay to murder its citizens out of fear, confusion, and uncertainty, the people who have been living uncomfortably will certainly eventually do it themselves. And I REALLY don’t think anyone wants that.
R.I.P. Alton Sterling.