As Stormy Daniels and the three ring circus that is the Trump Administration continues to monopolize national media attention, the side-show known as the Louisiana criminal justice system has managed to stay below the radar while administering yet another egregious injustice to the people of Baton Rouge and the state. State-sanctioned violence continues in the prison capital of the world as Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry declines to charge officers Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake II in the shooting death of Alton Sterling.
Video footage captured the last moments of Alton Sterling’s life. “The CD Man,” as he was affectionately known as in the community, was shot and killed on July 5, 2016, after officers responded to a call about a man with a gun outside a convenience store. After a brief struggle, six shots rang out and Sterling lay dying on the concrete in the parking lot of the Triple S convenience store. It is unclear whether Sterling was reaching for his gun as his hands were pinned down when officer Salamoni shot him three times in the chest and three times in the back.
A lengthy federal investigation into whether Sterling’s civil rights were violated concluded last year, after which state Attorney General Jeff Landry began a state investigation. On Tuesday, March 27, Landry announced his decision to decline to move forward with a grand jury hearing, forgoing the extra layer of review, credibility, and transparency it could have brought.
Two years after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, his family is once again deprived of justice. Meanwhile, officers Salamoni and Lake have enjoyed taxpayer-funded vacations under the guise of “administrative leave”. This has included two pay raises and the privilege of working extra duty. They now face possible termination from the Baton Rouge Police Department pending a review by the Baton Rouge mayor and chief of police. The BRPD plans to release additional footage including dash cam video and audio of the altercation leading up to Sterling’s death.
This decision adds to the list of unanswered calls for justice in black and brown communities across the country. According to the Washington Post Police shootings database nearly 1,000 people are shot and killed by police annually, but only a small fraction of those cases lead to criminal charges or prosecution. However, the Black Minneapolis police officer was charged with murder and manslaughter less than one year after fatally shooting Justine Damond, an White Australian woman. Last year in Marksville, another Black officer, Deputy City Marshall Derrick Stafford, was sentenced to 40 years without parole for manslaughter in the shooting death of a White six-year-old, Jeremy Mardis, and 15 years for the attempted manslaughter of Christopher Few. This proves that justice is possible in the case of police murders, but begs the question, Do Black lives REALLY matter?