Cell phone video has emerged of the shooting death of a 37-year-old father of five at the hands of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at 12:35 a.m. on July 5. Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police in front of the Triple S Food Mart where he was known as "CD man." Darian Gardner, one of Sterling’s friends, told The Advocate, “He was nice. He wasn't a bad guy." He added, "He was respectable."
 
The shocking 48-second video shows two officers tackling and wrestling a heavy-set man wearing a red shirt against the hood of a car before slamming him onto the pavement. “He’s got a gun,” one officer shouts while he and his partner pinned Sterling to the ground. The other officer yelled, “You f-----g move, I swear to God.” It was then that the pair drew their service pistols. The bystander wielding the cell phone camera then turns it away as five shots ring out. Two shots, according to a coroner, said struck Sterling in the chest and back. 
"They shot him?” a man’s voice says in the video. “Yes,” a woman replies between sobs.
 
His death has sparked protests and outrage in the community while observers are drawing comparisons between Sterling’s death and the deaths of other black men by police. In an interview on CNN, Sterling's family members sobbed with grief and demanded answers. Sterling's teenaged son sobbed, "I want my daddy."
 
According to his sister, Mignon Chambers, Sterling had five children. Few details have emerged so far in the media about Sterling and his life. However, local reports say that an anonymous 911 caller and an officer in the video claimed that Sterling was carrying a gun and threatened someone before he was killed. Triple S Food Mart owner Abdullah Muflahi told CNN that he had never seen Sterling get into a confrontation. Just minutes before his death, Sterling entered the store to buy a cold drink and to joke with Muflahi. He said that Sterling had recently started carrying a weapon, after a friend was mugged.
 
 
Sterling was a resident at the Living Waters Outreach Ministries transitional shelter. He was known as being a friendly, helpful, and clean man, who sometimes sold CDs at the facility. "I never saw him coming in here with a weapon, and I never saw him drunk," fellow resident Calvin Wilson told The Advocate. "He wasn't a bad person."
said Sandra Sterling, an aunt who raised Alton Sterling after his mother died.
According to various reports, Sterling was a registered sex offender, after a 2000 conviction for carnal knowledge of a juvenile, according to police records. He also had an arrest record for aggravated battery, criminal damage to property, unauthorized entry and domestic abuse battery. In 2009, he received a five-year sentence for marijuana possession and for carrying an illegal weapon with a controlled dangerous substance. Because he was on probation, family members said that when he died he would not have been allowed to carry a gun.
 
 
In Louisiana, citizens over the age of 18 years can own a gun without a permit. The storeowner said he saw the officers pull a gun from Sterling’s pocket after the shooting, while he acknowledged Sterling had recently bought it after learning other disc vendors had been robbed.
 
Storeowner Muflahi told the New York Daily News, “He was screaming, ‘What did I do,’ ‘What's going on?”  Muflahi also said that police have confiscated his store’s surveillance video that may have captured the entire incident. He watched police kill Sterling, his friend, who he allowed to peddle music daily. “His hand was not in his pocket, nor did he have the gun in his hand,” he said. “While he was laying there dying, the cop went inside his pocket to pull the gun out.”
Police have not confirmed whether Sterling had a gun in his possession at the time of death. “I think they really handled it the wrong way,” Muflahi said.
Baton Rouge Police spokesman Cpl. L’Jean McKneely told The Advocate newspaper that the two arresting officers were equipped with body cams but that the recording devices apparently came loose and were dangling from their chests during the incident. The cellphone video shows one officer used a stun gun on Sterling before opening fire. A dashcam captured the killing on video. The two officers are on administrative leave.
 
Shaun King, a columnist for The New York Daily News and former political activist, wrote of the video of the killing, “You cannot un-see what those police officers did to Alton Sterling. Even though I had an idea of what I was about to watch, seeing it still somehow took my breath away.” King wrote, “Police are saying they recovered a gun from his pocket, but the owner of the convenience store has already said openly that he witnessed the entire ordeal and Sterling never had the gun in his hands, nor was his hand in his pocket at any point before police shot and killed him. It's funny how that works.”
 
Saying that so far in July, 15 people have been killed by police, King wrote: “We've tried protesting and we will continue to protest, but it just doesn't seem like it's enough. I don't know where we go from here, but I know this much — I don't like how I feel right now and I don't like what I see brewing in the future of this nation.”
 
Sterling’s friend, Vereta Lee, told WFAB of his death, “It just didn’t make sense for someone to become so angry that’s supposed to protect our lives and take this young man’s life. It just doesn’t make sense.”
 
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) announced today that federal Department of Justice, through its Civil Rights Division, will be the lead agency in investigating the incident. He said that after viewing the cellphone video of the shooting that he has a "very serious concern."  He added that the video is "disturbing, to say the least."
 
DOJ said that its Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana have opened a civil rights investigation into Sterling’s death.
 
The district attorney for East Baton Rouge said today that the officers "feel they were completely justified’ in shooting Sterling. In its statement, DOJ said that it "will collect all available facts and evidence and conduct a fair, thorough and impartial investigation.”
 
Various protest groups have already staged passionate demonstrations to repudiate Sterling's death and demand justice. Black Lives Matter has announced that it will stage protests elsewhere in the country.  

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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