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December 20, 2016

Human Story: Louisiana

The day before Mr. Philando Castile was shot in Minnesota, a black man named Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In responding to a call that a man in a red shirt was selling CDs and might have a firearm, two police officers named Howie Lake and Blane Salomoni shot and killed Mr. Sterling at close range while being recorded by multiple bystanders.

Mr. Sterling, unlike Mr. Castile, had a criminal record including violent offences which were unknown to the police officers at the time of the shooting. To them he was just another black man, and to these police officers – like Officer Yiminez – to be black is to be assumed violent.

Like the killing of Mr. Castile, that of Mr. Sterling was recorded and released online.

There is still much discussion and lack of clarity regarding the facts of this shooting including whether or not Mr. Sterling actually had a gun. Both officers seemed to believe he did as they were yelling about it throughout the 48-second video. The owner of the store where the shooting took place claimed that Sterling had in fact been carrying a firearm but that he was not the one for whom the police were called.

Officer Lake had three years of law enforcement experience including a previous shooting of an African-American male (what is this, a sport now?!) and Officer Salamoni had four years of experience. Both had been previously investigated and cleared of excessive force charges by their department. Both, clearly, had violent tendencies.

An unfortunate biography of Alton Sterling was perpetuated following his murder including his rap sheet and allegations that had been made against him, this seems to be a way for people to feel like his being killed was somehow justified. The police officers involved in this case had no knowledge of Mr. Sterlings history and to use it against him posthumously is lazy, cruel and has no bearings on this case.

For the sake of this argument, let’s assume that Mr. Sterling did in fact have a gun in his possession. To contrast this with the episode involving Mr. Castile we have two black men with guns being shot by the police. Police are supposed to have training in diffusing situations in order to avoid resorting to using their firearms and even when they do resort to the use of their firearms, they are not supposed to shoot-to-kill as they did in both of these cases.

Mr. Castile was shot seven times. Mr. Sterling was shot at least four times at close range in the back and chest. Neither of these armed men made any gesture to threaten the police with the weapon.

What we have here are two cases in which police officers targeting and murdering black men out of fear and/or hatred. What this does to the gun ownership movement in America is further reinforce the idea that a gun is a good defense against an imagined or invented threat. This does nothing to help our movement, it reinforces the idea that guns are scary and only used as an offense rather than their intended purpose of defending one’s self, family and home, and sets us gun rights advocates up against the Black Lives Matters movement.

THE BLACK LIVES MATTERS MOVEMENT IS OF MORE CULTURAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL IMPORTANCE THAN THE SECOND AMENDMENT RIGHTS ACTIVISTS. IF I HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN BLM AND NRA, I WILL CHOOSE BLM EVERY SINGLE TIME UNTIL POLICE OFFICERS EITHER STOP SHOOTING NON-THREATENING BLACK MEN OR UNTIL THEY ARE APPROPRIATELY CHARGED AND CONVICTED FOR DOING SO.