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Shooting of police raise racial tensions, spur gun control debate

25th July 2016   ·   0 Comments

The July 17 killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge and the wounding of three others have led to vigorous debate about race relations, the need for police reform and ongoing efforts to secure gun-control legislation.

Complicating the debate is the fact that Louisiana’s Blue Lives Matter law makes it a hate crime to kill a law enforcement officer, essentially adding police officers to historically disadvantaged groups like Blacks and gays.

After the heated accusations, demonstrations, mass arrests and cop killings in the wake of the July 5 officer-involved shooting of 37-year-old Alton Sterling, the loved ones of Sterling and Baton Rouge Officer Montrell Jackson came together Monday at the site of a July 17 deadly gun battle that claimed the lives of three police officers and left three others wounded.

There were many reminders of the bloodshed from a day earlier as investigators continued to gather evidence at the Airline Highway crime scene, people left flowers for the fallen and wounded officers and others visited the area to pray to pay their respect for the victims and their families.

Among those gathered were Jose Jackson, father of the 10-year, Baton Rouge PD veteran, and Sandra Sterling, the aunt of police shooting victim Alton Sterling.

“ This is so surreal,” Jackson told WWL News. “It’s hard. You have to have a son, and lose a son, in order to understand. It’s like it’s not real. He’s gone. It’s hard to talk about it, but I know I have to be strong for my son. He died doing what he loved, police work. Ever since he was small, he wanted to be in something that would help people.”

“When I saw this I just fell down to my knees,” said Sandra Sterling about the shootings. “That’s all I could do was pray “We because this is not right. This is not right.”

They prayed for the fallen officers, their families, and for peace.

“Please stop the violence. Please stop,” said State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge. “Violence shouldn’t beget violence and it doesn’t serve any purpose. Just as this family is hurting, now we have many other families that are hurting. This community, the police department as a whole is hurting.”

A growing makeshift memorial stood as a sign of how a community has been moved by this tragedy.

Jackson said his grandson made four months old Tuesday, and that his grandson is the only reminder he has left that brings him close to his fallen son.

As the families of the shooting victims seek to heal and try to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones, a battle is brewing over the prosecution of the two cops who killed Alton Sterling.

After Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore recused himself because he has a relationship with one of the officers’ parents, the case dropped into the lap of state Attorney General Jeff Landry, a former congressman who has referred to himself as a “law-and-order” conservative and a former police officer and sheriff’s deputy in St. Martin Parish.

Elected officials told recently that they plan to ask Landry to recuse himself and appoint a special prosecutor to oversee any criminal case brought against the two officers involved in the case.

“I don’t want any political backlash getting in the way with what he is constitutionally charged to do,” state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, a professor at the Southern University Law Center, told

AG Jeff Landry, who has only been in his current post six months, would likely face intense political pressure and would have to grapple with a racially explosive, politically charged case in a legal area where he doesn’t have a great deal of experience.

“I would not want these decisions to be made against the backdrop of re-election possibilities,” Marjorie Esman, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told

At least one elected official said Landry’s background in law enforcement could prove to be a major distraction during the case and that the AG should remove himself to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

“I think I would outsource it, just to avoid the appearance of conflict,” state Rep. Denise Marcelle, a mayoral candidate whose district encompasses the neighborhood where Alton Sterl-ing was killed, told “Law enforcement is a tight-knit community in this state.”

“We will not make any further comment about this ongoing investigation beyond the LADOJ will be prepared to act in a timely, prudent and judicious manner at the appropriate time,” the state Attorney General’s Office said in a July 11 statement.

The family of Alton Sterling, members of the community who are clamoring for justice in the case, elected officials, and civil rights leaders will be watching closely as Landry decides whether to appoint a special prosecutor or take on the case himself.

A decision will be made after the U.S. Department of Justice completes its investigation of the incident.

“Even if he thinks the officers are innocent, there is going to be a lot of pressure to prosecute,” LSU Law School professor Ken Levy told

Justin Bamberg, a South Carolina lawyer representing two of Sterling’s children, made it very clear what his clients want: “We want justice. We want an indictment.”

On June 22, 10 days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history took place at an Orlando, Fla. nightclub, Congressman John Lewis led a sit-in on Capitol Hill in an effort to force his colleagues in the House of Representatives to vote on gun-control legislation. While the sit-in failed to convince Republicans to vote on gun control and House Speaker Paul Ryan called it a “stunt,” it ultimately raised awareness about the need for increased efforts to curb gun violence.

On July 5, the day Congressed returned to Capitol Hill, Alton Sterling was killed by police, triggering a tragic series of events that culminated with the killing of five cops during a July 17 protest in Dallas, Texas and the killing of there Baton Rouge, La. police officers on July 17.

The latter occurred on the eve of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio and prompted leaders of Cleveland’s largest police union to ask Ohio Gov. John Kasich to authorize a temporary ban on firearms during the convention as a safety precaution.

“As long as it was white boys with shaved heads and white supremacist tattoos or backwoods types walking around with shotguns, everything was cool.” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “No one in law enforcement or on the Right wanted to talk about gun control until they saw Black men in Dallas walking around with guns over their shoulders or heard about members of the New Black Panther Party talking about coming to Cleveland to show how much they love the 2nd Amendment. Now they want to talk about it.”

Aha predicted that federal lawmakers will begin crafting a way to protect the 2nd Amendment while impeding Blacks’ right to bear arms.

“We’ve seen similar tactics before with regard to Black and poor people’s voting rights and with drug-sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system,” Aha told The Louisiana Weekly.

A number of elected officials, former police administrators and criminal justice experts, among them former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have sought to blame the police killings on the Black Lives Matter Movement, going so far as to call the movement to end unconstitutional policing and other societal ills a “hate group.”

With the image of a Black man in Dallas carrying an assault rifle and wearing a camouflage shirt etched in the minds of Americans from all walks of life and the concerns law enforcement agencies continue to express about placing police officers in harm’s way, gun-control advocates might have found an unlikely ally in law enforcement agencies and cop families.

On Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Cedric Richmond, D-La., and Garrett Graves, R-Baton Rouge, told reporters that they co-authored a bill that would improve police officer training and develop weapons that would minimize the need to use deadly force.

The bill would establish the “Office of Non-lethal Technologies and Techniques” within the U.S. Department of Justice, develop nonlethal weapons and create a grant program to train local law enforcement officers on how to use them and employ other techniques and approaches to calm tense encounters with civilians.

The Rev. Raymond Brown, a New Orleans-based community activist and president of National Action Now, said last week that many law enforcement officials and mainstream media outlets fan the flames of racial division by saying that the entire Black community is anti-police for no logical reason.

“As some have already said, we are not anti-police — we are anti-injustice and anti-oppression,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly Tuesday. “We get racially profiled, targeted, harassed and beaten and shot by the police without justification. If the police ever want to establish a functional working relationship with the Black community, it has to start with cops doing a better job of respecting our constitutional and human rights.”

Brown said that unlike racist cops who view all Black people the same, Black people have the ability to recognize and respect good cops.

“All of us have friends, former classmates and family members who are on the police force, so we know there are good cops,” Brown said. “But we also know that there are more than a few bad apples and tragically the good often suffer for the bad.?

Dr. Cornel West recently issued a call for cooler heads to prevail and for everyone to work toward building a society where justice and peace can co-exist.

West alluded to the importance of addressing both unconstitutional policing and Black-on-Black violence along with a host of other societal ills in order to turn things around in communities of color.

“We have to hit the streets, we have to preserve the resistance and let the young folks know,” West said. “Stop the killing. Stop killing Black people. Stop killing working people. It’s not just the racial thing —we kill a lot of white brothers and sisters too but it’s disproportionately chocolate. And yes, we have to stop killing the police but we are in this together.

“We got social neglect, we got economic abandonment,” West added. “Every day we got Black poor people who are wrestling with unbelievably oppressive conditions and we got to be able to speak candidly and honestly about that and come up with some ways to re-channel a lot of this rage and anger.”

This article originally published in the July 25, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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