Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced Tuesday morning that two Baton Rouge police officers will not face any charges in the July 2016 state-sanctioned shooting death of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five who was selling CDs in front of a Baton Rouge convenience store when he was gunned down by Officer Blane Salamoni, with the assistance of Officer Howie Lake II.
“Both officers acted in a reasonable and justifiable manner in the shooting death of Mr. Sterling,” Landry said during his news conference. “Our investigation has concluded officers Lake and Salamoni attempted to make a lawful arrest of Alton Sterling based upon probable cause.”
The officers have been on administrative leave since the fatal shooting.
Landry said that he informed Sterling’s family before he made the announcement.
The U.S. Justice Department ruled out hate crime charges against the officers last year.
“We must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers’ use of force was objectively unreasonable based on the circumstances at the time and based on their perceptions at the time,” said then-acting U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson.
“Under this standard, it is not enough to show an officer acted recklessly or with negligence or acted with a specific intent or by mistake, exercise bad judgment, use poor tactics or even that the officer escalated the situation where he could have de-escalated. Those things are not violations under federal criminal civil rights laws,” Amundson continued.
Now that the predicable has to come to pass, let’s discuss the facts.
Alton Sterling was not dangerous.
He was not committing a violent crime.
He was not a threat to himself or others.
But ... he was black. And in this “great” nation, that is clearly a killable offense. And in keeping with white supremacist tradition, Landry criminalized Sterling as a way of justifying not holding Officers Salamoni and Lake accountable for the street execution caught on camera.
It was totally within bounds for Salamoni to shoot Sterling in the chest three times, Landry said, because the father of five allegedly had a loaded .38-caliber pistol in his pocket—though he never reached for it.
It made perfect sense for Lake to use a Taser on Sterling and hold him down because, allegedly, toxicology reports showed that the father of five had a “Schedule II drug” in his system, so “maybe,” Landry said, that explains why he resisted arrest.
We’re supposed to believe this dehumanizing, revisionist history. We’re supposed to be distracted by these deflections, like puppies after a shiny ball.
We’re supposed to believe that Alton Sterling was a pistol-packing bootlegger who was high on drugs, thereby making his death acceptable.
But we know better—and they know we know better.
We know that Landry, with his statements today, dog-whistled his way into further complicity in the state-sanctioned death of a man minding his own business.
We know that even if Sterling were a high, pistol-packing bootlegger, he should not be dead. We know that the drug war, a proxy for the war on working-class, poor black and brown people—and the moralizing and shame surrounding drug use—is the reason Landry mentioned drug use at all.
We know that despite the right-wing romanticizing of the Second Amendment, a black man with a gun who encounters police is a dead black man.
We didn’t need a press conference to tell us that.