ESA Mourns the Deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
by Brian Pipkin
Within a three-day period, two more black men were killed by police officers. Both men were legally carrying a gun.
Alton Sterling was a father of five who made his living selling CDs on the streets of Baton Rouge, LA. He lived at the Living Waters Outreach Ministry, a Christian transitional living center. On Tuesday, July 5, he was selling CDs in the parking lot of a convenience store when a homeless man approached him several times asking for money. Sterling showed his gun to the man, who then called 911.
Two officers showed up and pinned Sterling to the ground. Graphic videos show two white officers wrestling Sterling to the ground before drawing their weapons and aiming them at Sterling. One officer yells, “He’s got a gun!” then the other officer shoots Sterling multiple times in the chest.
Louisiana is an open-carry state, and witnesses say Sterling did not reach for his gun. The owner of the convenience store, Abdullah Muflahi, who witnessed the killing, said the officers hit Sterling with a taser, but he did not initially fall to the ground. “His hands were nowhere near his pocket,” Muflahi said. “After the shooting, an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and retrieved a handgun,” said Muflahi. When describing the officers, Muflahi said, “They were really aggressive with him from the start.”
Two days later, a 32-year-old Minnesota man, Philando Castile, was shot and killed by an officer during a routine traffic stop. Castile’s girlfriend recorded the immediate aftermath on her phone. According to her, Castile told the officers that he was carrying a permitted firearm. As he reached for his wallet, the officer opened fire. After shooting Castile, the video shows the officer saying, “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to keep his hand open!” Castile’s girlfriend replied, “You told him to get his ID, sir, and his license.”
Though both men were legally carrying a gun, these incidents are a reminder that even unarmed black people are killed by police at five times the rate of unarmed whites.
After watching the graphic videos, some will begin to rationalize and explain away these cold-blooded, state-sanctioned killings. But he had a gun, so it was justified, some will say. Yes, both were carrying, but they were legally carrying. The same rights granted to white folks are the same rights granted to all Americans, including Black people, Arabs, Muslims and Christians. Others will say, “He did not go down when he was tasered, so he was resisting.” Yes, he did not immediately fall, but he was also not resisting arrest. He simply did not fall to the ground after getting tasered. We should not confuse uncontrollable bodily reactions with resisting arrest. For example, when the cop had his arm against the neck of Eric Garner, his bodily reaction was to jerk as his airway and blood supply were obstructed. That is an uncontrollable, flight-or-fight action. It is not instinctual for a person to go limp or become immobile when his or her body is in pain and discomfort. If someone was to jump on top of you, what would your reaction be? Our flight-or-fight response does not change depending on whether the person jumping on us is a friend or foe. The body reacts instinctively, even when the aggressor is wearing a badge.
Please take a moment to sign this petition and tell the Department of Justice to bring charges against the officers that killed Philando Castile and Anton Sterling.
Brian Pipkin is a graduate of Azusa Pacific University and is currently on staff at Palmer Seminary of Eastern University and The Sider Center/ESA.