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Police brace for reaction to DOJ probe of Alton Sterling shooting

28th November 2016   ·   0 Comments

Police are preparing for the possibility of more protests in Baton Rouge once the U.S. Department of Justice completes its probe of the July 5, 2016 officer-involved shooting of 37-year-old Alton Sterling.

Sterling, a father of five, was shot at point-blank range by Baton Rouge police outside a convenience store where he sold CDs and other items. The cops were reportedly called to the scene after someone called police and told them that Sterling had threatened them with a gun.

The Sterling shooting and another officer-involved shooting in Minnesota sparked nationwide protests this past summer which led to the shooting deaths of five law enforcement offers in Dallas, Texas and three in Baton Rouge, La.

WWL News reported that Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards met Monday with law-enforcement officials, community activists and religious leaders to discuss efforts to improve police-community relations in the wake of the Alton Sterling shooting and the fatal shooting of three law enforcement officers by a lone Black gunman.

Edwards, who comes from a family of law enforcement officers, said that he doesn’t know when the DOJ would complete its investigation into the shooting or whether criminal charges would be filed in the case.

Edwards was criticized by some in the Black community for using the word “diabolical” to describe the actions of the Black gunman, Gavin Long, who killed three law enforcement officers after Sterling was killed by police and for defending the aggressive tactics used by Baton Rouge police against members of Black Lives Matter and other protesters in downtown Baton Rouge this summer.

The families of Alton Sterling and the three slain law enforcement officers were visited by President Barack Obama after tens of thousands of residents’ homes were destroyed by major flooding this summer.

Baton Rouge made national and international headlines in the wake of the shootings, which brought hundreds of protesters to Louisiana’s capitol city, where police donned military-style combat gear after reports of a plot to kill police. Police took an aggressive stand against protesters, pushing some protesters around and pulling others off private property after one of the demonstrations took a turn for the worse. More than 200 protesters were arrested.

In October, Ernest Johnson, president of the Louisiana State NAACP Conference, told DOJ officials that the family of Alton Sterling and the community needed an update on the progress it was making in its investigation of the shooting.

“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,” Johnson wrote in a letter to the DOJ on Oct. 14.

WWL reported that U.S. Attorney for Louisiana’s Middle District Walt Green issued a statement days later that said, “The investigation remains ongoing, and will conclude only when we have gathered, reviewed and evaluated all available evidence.”

WWL News also reported that Sandra Sterling, Alton’s aunt who raised him since he was 11, told USA Today this summer that she was frustrated with the pace of the investigation.

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

In the wake of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile shootings, U.S. Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Garrett Grayson (R-La/) co-authored a bill seeking federal funds to provide law enforcement agencies with additional non-lethal tools that officers could use to secure suspects.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said last week that police won’t allow any protests to turn “violent, destructive or unlawful” but will respond “as least aggressively as we can.”

“Our stance is going to continue to be as long as you’re nonviolent, ‘As long as you’re following the law, people will have the ability to protest and say what they want to say,’” Dabadie said.

The mass arrests of Baton Rouge protesters led to a pair of federal lawsuits that accused police of using excessive force and of violating protesters’ civil rights.

Also, a Baton Rouge officer injured during the Baton Rouge protest has filed a lawsuit against Black Lives Matter and one of its leaders, Floyd Mckessen of Baltimore, Md., after the officer was reportedly struck by a piece of concrete or a “rock-like substance” during the demonstration this summer.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said recently that he doesn’t plan to file criminal charges against any of the protesters arrested during the July demonstration.

Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, told WWL News last week that if protests break out after the DOJ completes its investigation, officers will help people protest peacefully “to make sure that their voices are heard.”

“We’re going to go where they are, and we’re going to work with them. But when it gets out of hand, we’re going to react,” Edmonson said.

Edwards said Monday’s meeting was part of an ongoing effort to improve relations between police and members of the community.

“The simple truth of the matter is we have too many police officers who are scared of members of the public and too many members of the public who are scared of police officers. It doesn’t have to be that way,” Edwards said.

Sandra Sterling made it clear Monday that she is still frustrated with the slow pace of the DOJ investigation.

“Nothing has changed. People just talking,” she said after attending Monday’s meeting with the governor.

WWL reported that some community leaders have called for the DOJ to release more information about its investigation. In addition to cellphone video of the shooting, investigators also have police dashcam and bodycam video and store surveillance footage that hasn’t been made public.

This article originally published in the November 28, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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