The NAACP is calling for Louisiana to conduct a thorough investigation and vigorously pursue charges against the police officers who shot Alton Sterling, an African-American father of five who was gunned down by police in 2016. This comes after the Trump Justice Department declined to bring federal charges against officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake. “What’s so frightening here is that these investigations, state and federal, are being conducted in an atmosphere of dangerous silence and dangerous presumption,” says Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP. “This code of blue prevents people from coming forward. It inhibits a free and frank discussion and testimony with respect to what’s happened in so many instances.”
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we’re in the South. We’re in Atlanta, Georgia. We’re going to talk about what happened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The family of Alton Sterling, the African-American father of five who was killed by police in 2016—the family called Wednesday for the state’s attorney general to bring criminal charges against his killers. The call came after the Justice Department declined to bring federal charges against officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake. Sterling family lawyer Chris Stewart said the U.S. Attorney’s Office provided new details about the killing, including how officer Salamoni shot Sterling six times.
CHRIS STEWART: We learned some new things today. We learned that officer Salamoni walked up to Alton Sterling and put a gun to his head and said, “I’ll kill you, bitch.” You heard me correctly. We heard from them that officer Salamoni kept instigating this situation. You heard me correctly. The attorney general has a phenomenal case, because no police officer should conduct himself like that.
AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry promised a thorough investigation into whether to charge officers Lake and Salamoni. Alton Sterling’s aunt, Sandra Sterling, said she was devastated after learning new details about how her nephew was killed.
SANDRA STERLING: And what I heard today, the suffering still continues. So now that I know that it’s not a civil matter anymore, now it’s a human matter, because Alton was human. He’s no longer here, but his voice still will be heard, through us. So stay behind us, because we love Alton, and we don’t want this to end. Remember his name.
AMY GOODMAN: Alton Sterling’s killing on July 5th, 2016, sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.
For more, we’re going to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of NAACP—
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: —also a longtime human rights activist, civil rights lawyer and minister.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s start with Alton Sterling. What are you calling for at the NAACP?
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: We’re calling for the attorney general of the state of Louisiana to conduct a thorough investigation and to vigorously pursue charges against these police officers. The fact that Mr. Salamoni put a gun to Alton Sterling’s head, referred to him with a slur, cursed him, if you will, those actions suggest his propensity to use violence, and those actions also put into context any actions by Mr. Sterling. This whole encounter, from beginning to end, was less than a few minutes. So, in other words, from the time Mr. Sterling was confronted by these police officers, having a gun put to his head and being shot less than 30 seconds after he was pinned to the ground, took place in a matter of minutes. This is not standard operating procedure. This is not standard community policing.
And so, we’re asking that the attorney general conduct a thorough investigation, that he consider the full range of the officers’ conduct during the encounter, but also the kind of officer he was and is. This happens with a brutal regularity, as you know quite well. Between 950 and a thousand people lose their lives at the hands of the police every year. A young black man is 21 times more likely to lose his at hands of the police than his white counterpart. This occurs with a brutal normalcy that we cannot countenance, we cannot put up with. And so, yes, the state investigation should continue, because the state standard, as opposed to the federal standard, is broader and lower, therefore not easy to meet, but easier to meet than the federal standard that the Department of Justice declined to pursue charges under.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, what’s truly astounding, the only people arrested in this case, in the death of Alton Sterling, were two men. One was Abdullah Muflahi. He owned the Triple S convenient store.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: They took his video, because, of course, he had video at the store, surveillance video.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: That’s right. That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: And the other person was Chris LeDay, who works at a military base here in Georgia, saw video from bystanders, posted it online. Before he knew it, at the military base, he was handcuffed.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: He was frogmarched across the Army—across the military base, and he was jailed. This is for posting the video. And we see how horrifying that video is, that Alton Sterling was shot at point-blank range as he lay on his back.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: That’s right. That’s right. Three in the chest, three in—three bullets in the chest, three in the back. And what’s so frightening here is that these investigations, state and federal, are being conducted in an atmosphere of dangerous silence and dangerous presumption, dangerous silence in the sense that this—this code of blue prevents people from coming forward. It inhibits a free and frank discussion and testimony with respect to what’s happened in so many instances, but also a code of dangerous presumption. Namely, the conduct of officers is presumed to be reasonable, assumed to be reasonable, in the face of godawful facts.
The fact this man lost his life in a matter of moments—in a matter of moments—after being accosted by a police officer, spoken to in the most vile way, with a gun pointed to his head, this says everything, not only about the value or lack of value of Alton Sterling’s life, but the value of black lives across the country and the lack of humanity that black lives are accorded in this country. And I would say that that extends to the lives of others—members of the Muslim community, LGBTQ community, folks who are Latino. But we’ve got rogue policing going on. And we, in fact, have far too many prosecutors, far too many police chiefs, and certainly an attorney general who does not appreciate the breadth and the reality of this.