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La. NAACP tells Justice Department to pick up pace in Alton Sterling probe

24th October 2016   ·   0 Comments

Ernest Johnson, president of the Louisiana State NAACP Conference, recently reached out to officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and urged the agency to provide the public with an update on the progress it has made in its probe of the July 5, 2016 officer-involved shooting of Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling outside a convenience store.

Sterling’s death at the hands of two Baton Rouge cops this summer and the officer-involved fatal shooting of Philando Castile in Minneapolis just days later, touched off a firestorm of national protests that led to the killing of three Baton Rouge officers and at least five Dallas officers and the wounding of other officers in both Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Since the killing of the officers, authorities in Baton Rouge have not made public the findings of the coroner about the cause of death but the 37-year-old father of five was was wrestled to the ground and shot at point-blank range by one of the officers who approached him as he sold CDs outside a convenience store in South Baton Rouge.

Johnson told DOJ officials that Sterling’s family and the community need to know what is going with regard to the federal investigation of the incident.

“If we haven’t seen some response by the end of this month, you’ll probably see people becoming concerned about the slowness of the investigation,” Ernest Johnson said Oct. 14.

In the wake of the shooting, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, whose district includes parts of Baton Rouge, called on the Justice Department to launch an investigation.

WWL News reported that Walt Green, U.S. Attorney for Louisiana’s Middle District, released a statement last week that said the Department of Justice has not set a deadline for completing its investigation.

“The investigation remains ongoing, and will conclude only when we have gathered, reviewed and evaluated all available evidence,” Green said.

U.S. Attorney Green said his office is working closely with the Justice Department and the FBI, and staffers have “devoted hundreds of hours to the investigation.”

“Due to the breadth, scope and seriousness of the investigation, all three participating agencies have dedicated significant resources to the case,” he said.

WWL News reported that Sandra Sterling, Alton Sterling’s aunt who raised him since he was 11, said this summer she was frustrated by the pace of the investigation.

“Let’s get this all over (with) so we can all heal,” she told USA TODAY.

She and community activist Arthur Reed participated in panels in the Washington area about African-American men who have been killed during encounters with police.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said he’s also heard people express their concerns about the investigation. Cassidy, a medical doctor who once represented Baton Rouge as a congressman, said he spoke with Sandra Sterling after the shooting.

“She very much wants this not to go to the back burner,” he said. “She very much abhors violence.”

Sterling’s death ignited demonstrations in Baton Rouge. The city was in the national spotlight again later in July after a lone gunman, a military veteran from Kansas City, Mo., ambushed and killed officers Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson and Deputy Sheriff Brad Garafola and wounded several others.

Cassidy reportedly met recently with law enforcement officials and families of the slain officers.

“What I’m concerned about is, how does our state, how does our nation come together so there’s more understanding,” he said. “I’m more about how do we support the police, support our communities, build bridges.”

Johnson said the Sterling investigation has been overshadowed by August flooding that devastated communities in Baton Rouge.

“What happened between the flooding and now is folks dealing with the flooding, trying to get back in their homes,” he said. “Really there hasn’t been a lot of focus on the Alton Sterling matter because of the flooding.”

But he said that will change by next month when the community demands more action.

“That’s just going to be too much time,” he said.

In the wake of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile shootings and the killing of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Rep. Richmond co-authored a bill with Rep. Garrett Grayson, R-La., seeking federal funds to provide law enforcement agencies with additional non-lethal tools that officers could use to secure suspects.

Congressman Richmond and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have called for a congressional hearing to address officer-involved shootings of Black and Brown civilians.

Louisiana is currently the only state that has a law that designates any act taken against a law enforcement officer as a hate crime.

“That’s a major part of the problem,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly.

Many cops in this state and elsewhere have been getting away with unlawfully killing innocent Black and Brown people for so long that they see it as normal. It is not normal for cops to murder law-abiding citizens because they can or because they thought they saw a gun or a knife.

“When they fail to not only carry out their sworn mission to protect and serve all segments of the population, they need to be held accountable.

“The cops who killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile should be held accountable by the criminal justice system and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

This article originally published in the October 24, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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