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District attorney resigns from Baton Rouge shooting case, economic boycott keeps up pressure and the demand for justice

By Rhodesia Muhammad and J.A. Salaam | Last updated: Jul 14, 2016 - 12:34:01 PM

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Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man was shot to death as he lay on the ground with two police officers on top of him.

BATON ROUGE, La.—District Attorney Hillar Moore, III stepped down from the investigation in the death of Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old Black man shot six times in the chest by Baton Rouge police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, both 28-years-old. 

The shooting took place July 5 in front of Triple S convenience store, where a kind of shrine has been erected to the man known for selling DVDs.

District Attorney Hillar Moore, III
The district attorney’s decision to recuse himself July 11 was prompted because of a long time relationship he has with the parent of one of the officers, Mr. Salamoni, was involved in the Sterling shooting. The state Attorney General has to decide whether to assign a DA from another judicial district in the state or take over the case. No decision had been made at Final Call presstime.

The Justice Dept. opened a civil rights investigation July 6 into the police-involved shooting. Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said this is not the first time the Baton Rouge police department has been subjected to a federal probe related to excessive use of force allegations, indicating problems that exist within the department.

The former Justice Dept. prosecutor believes that the department along with help from the FBI will ensure a fair, thorough, and impartial investigation. 

However, Ms. Clarke added, after the criminal investigation a civil investigation of the department should be conducted to identify and eliminate systemic problems that may have contributed to Mr. Sterling’s death.

Other pressures are also being exerted, including protests and an economic boycott and demonstrations. Reginald L. Pitcher resigned as president of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter to press for the selective buying campaign. “Basically, what we’re looking at here in Baton Rouge is what other people are looking at all over the nation. Just a situation exists where you have double standards where you have one Black community and you have one White community. Blacks are not treated fairly and don’t get justice and White folks get treated fairly and do get justice,” he said.

“We are tired and we’re standing up, we’re using the instruments, the weapons that we have, are made available to us which is the selective buying campaign. We’re going to use economics to put pressure on them to give us what we deserve, which is justice. This is not a new technique, it is an effective technique and we’re going to use it to the hilt,” vowed Rev. Pitcher. “We are going to boycott every level of their economics;  department stores, grocery stores, fast food stores and anything serviceable that we can put pressure on the Chamber of Commerce. They control the mayor’s office and they control the city council. So we’re going to put pressure on their pockets until they realize or recognize that we are standing together, that we want justice and we don’t want it tomorrow, we want it now,” he said.

According to Rev. Pitcher, the SCLC national president didn’t agree with a boycott and was concerned about losing financial support from sponsors like Wal-Mart.

“I have to stand with the people, we must show our power is in withholding the dollar,” he said.

Student Minister Abdul Rashid Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 65 in Baton Rouge, is a spokesman for the Alton family and a relative. “At this particular junction of the situation in this city is all in the regard to the murder of our brother, who is a cousin of mine, that has taken place. The city is galvanized now at this particular time for the economic boycott. This is where we have strength,” he said.

“His family’s hurt and pained and we feel the same pain as they do. We don’t accept business as usual where they go back and allow these police officers to get back on the street after they give them a paid vacation. The people have to keep the pressure on, and the intentions of the mosque here is to be the centerpiece; to be the galvanizing force behind the Justice or Else Coalition,” he added.

People honked their car horns as they passed the corners of Foster Dr., and Fairfields Ave., the site where Alton Sterling took his last breath. Officials said police were responding to a call about a Black man brandishing a gun. There have been conflicting reports of what actually led up to the fatal shooting in a city about 63 miles from New Orleans. 

Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of Triple S and the person responsible for releasing the second video that shows a closer view of the gruesome attack that left blood soaking through Alton Sterling’s T-shirt, shared his account of what happened to the man he considered a friend. 

“I saw blue lights from inside the store. I stepped outside to see what was going on,” he stated. “When I got outside, the cops were already grabbing Alton and tossing him on top of a car and then they tasered him. The other cop ran and tackled him onto an SUV and from there they slammed him onto the ground where both cops then got on top of him and one of the cops screamed ‘Gun!’ and that’s when they shot,” he recalled.

Mr. Muflahi described Mr. Sterling, the father of five as a good man with a huge heart. In the six years they were friends, Mr. Sterling was never a problem for anyone.

“We were talking five minutes before the shooting happened. I did not hear any sort of altercation at any time that night, ”  Mr. Muflahi said.

Seeing his friend, the person he laughed and joked with daily dying in front of him was terrifying and haunts the shop owner.  He admitted Mr. Sterling had a gun on him, but never once tried to grab it during the encounter with officers.

Mr. Muflahi believes that when the officer laid on top of Mr. Sterling he could feel the gun and that’s why he yelled “Gun!” But, he stressed, at no point did his friend try to reach for his weapon.

A makeshift memorial has been set up in front of the store where friends, family and supporters leave flowers, stuffed animals and other mementos. The store owner allowed graffiti artists to paint a mural of Mr. Sterling on the front of his building.                                                                                                                                       

The streets of Baton Rouge have been filled with enraged protesters holding up signs that illustrate their frustration with the injustices that stretch beyond Baton Rouge with the cases of Black men and women killed at the hands of law enforcement.

A day after the shooting death of Mr. Sterling, 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota on July 6 after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation. Diamond Reynolds, Mr. Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car, went live of Facebook as he boyfriend’s life and blood flowed out of his body.

Both shootings received national attention and triggered protests across the nation, including Dallas, Texas where a police say a sniper opened fire killing five White police officers and wounding 12 the night of July 7. Targeted shootings of officers were reported in Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri. 

Since then, the word about the economic withdrawal has spread throughout the nation. A list of over 150 Black-owned businesses in Baton Rouge has been posted on social media.  Economic withdrawal is a call Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. issued as a way of “redistributing the pain.” Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan reiterated this call to action at the Justice Or Else! gathering in Washington D.C., October 10, 2015, as a way Black people can show their outrage at injustices in American society.

Jabril Muhammad, another spokesperson for the Sterling family, was one of the first to receive the first video of the shooting. “I spoke to a close friend of mine who was there the morning of the shooting and who had recorded it,” said Jabril Muhammad. “She didn’t want to release the video until the family viewed it, so we went to the site of the shooting where the family was and showed them the video along with others who was out there. At that time everyone helped put it out on social media.”     

Speaking on behalf of the family, he added that Sandra Sterling, Alton Sterling’s aunt raised him after his mother died when he was a young boy. The family wants the justice system to work for all and not just for Whites and the wealthy, said Jabril Muhammad. But most of all, Ms. Sterling specifically wants a conviction from the two officers involved.

Some protesters wanted to know why the cops who killed Alton, who regularly sold DVDs in front of Triple S convenience store, didn’t know him like the rest of the community?

Veta Washington, another aunt of Mr. Sterling, said police who don’t belong in Black neighborhoods need to stay out Black neighborhoods.

Jabril Muhammad said Ms. Sterling had chosen not to address the media because she has been extremely overwhelmed with the death of her son. However, after traveling to Dallas to speak with Bishop T.D. Jakes, she said her faith has been restored. Ms. Sterling addressed a large audience Sunday, July 10 at Gloryland Baptist Church in Baton Rouge for the first time. “Now I’m better and ready to fight for justice,” she said standing before the packed room. “We will give Alton honor and the police who killed him will pay for it. I want to be peaceful, but I want justice.”

The crowd exploded with cheers.

Community activist Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed along with other protesters wants the resignation of East Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden. “We want Mayor Holden to resign,” Mr. Reed stated. “He has been absent during this entire ordeal. He hasn’t visited with the Sterling family nor has he offered any apology.”

Hundreds of people gathered in honor of Alton Sterling at a prayer vigil held at Living Faith Christian Center in Baton Rouge.  Rev. Victor White is the father of Victor White III, the 22-year-old New Iberia, La., man said to have committed suicide while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. He knows how the Sterling family feels. He believes his son was executed by Louisiana police in a city about an hour and a half away from Baton Rouge. “It’s time for us to demand more,” said Rev. White after the prayer service. “Prayer is fine but that’s not all this takes. I’ve seen quite a few pastors in there, but when they leave here what are their actions? This is a song and dance,” he stated. “It’s time to get out into the streets. It’s time for the ‘Or Else!’ Justice Or Else!”