Friday, May 05, 2017

Justice For Alton Sterling & The Social Cancer of Hate In America

Uncharged: officers Blaine Salamoni & Howie Lake
From a purely legal standpoint, the likelihood that the Department of Justice was going to file federal charges against Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake, the two Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officers who shot and killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling back in 2016, was slim to start with.

But from a human perspective, it's a rather poor reflection of the DOJ that Sterling's family had to learn that federal charges wouldn't be filed in the news.

According to a family spokesman, no one from the DOJ had bothered to contact the Sterling family by the time the Washington Post broke the story on Tuesday afternoon.

Given the high profile and delicate nature of the case, and its broader implications on the racial fabric of America, and the increased focus on the conduct of law enforcement, that's inexcusable.

Let's take a quick look back at what happened last summer.

At around 12:35am back on the night of July 5, 2016, officers Salamoni and Lake responded to an anonymous phone call reporting that a man selling CD's was waving a gun and threatening a homeless man at in front of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge.

Despite the fact that the owner of the store Abdullah Muflahi later said that Sterling was "not the one causing trouble", Salamoni and Lake confronted Sterling, tasered him multiple times and slammed him on the hood of a car before wrestling him to the ground.

Sterling seconds before being shot
While both officers were on top of Sterling, pinning him to the ground, one of the two officers yelled that Sterling had a gun after seeing the butt of a .38 caliber handgun in his pocket during the struggle.

If you look at the photo on the left taken seconds before Sterling was shot, you can clearly see one of the officers' left knee pinning Sterling's left arm to the ground while pointing his handgun directly in Sterling's face with his right hand.

The other is pinning Sterling's thigh and Sterling is clearly on his back; does it look like Sterling is overpowering them?

Moments later Salamoni was heard yelling, "Lake, he's going for the gun!" and six shots were fired into Sterling's chest and back at point blank range, killing him.

Multiple witnesses said Sterling never made an attempt to go for his gun, and in an NBC News interview, the store owner Abdullah Muflahi said that  "Sterling never wielded the gun or threatened the officers."

Take a couple minutes and watch Muflahi's interview on MSNBC, he's the one who videotaped the incident from the angle seen in the photo above - he said he never saw Sterling go for a gun, and the handgun he had on him didn't even appear until after the cops had shot him and went into his pocket and took it out.

Muflahi said he knew Alton Sterling for six years and that he allowed him to sell CD's outside the store because he never caused problems of any kind.

According to evidence gathered during the course of the DOJ investigation, Chris Stewart, one of the attorneys representing the Sterling family, says that when Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake first arrived at the scene of the incident last year, one of them walked up to Sterling, pointed a hand gun in his face and said, "Bitch, I'm gonna kill you."

That's the very first thing they said to Sterling, before ascertaining any evidence that he'd even done anything wrong.

Alton Sterling
They didn't ask to speak with him.

They didn't ask him if he'd threatened anyone, they didn't introduce themselves and say that had a few questions for him.

As Muflahi the store owner told MSNBC, they didn't even tell Sterling why they were there - they just pointed a gun at his face and threatened to kill him.

The subsequent protests that took place in Baton Rouge and elsewhere as thousands of people expressed outrage over the shooting were seen around the globe.

And tragically, Salamoni and Lake's actions led to the loss of more innocent lives, as two weeks later on Sunday July 17th an enraged 29-year-old former U.S. Marine named Gavin Long drove to Baton Rouge from his home in Kanas City and shot and killed three Louisiana police officers and wounded three others in a disturbing act of retribution.

Despite all that, and public pleas from the Sterling family to the DOJ, no one from the Department of Justice even bothered to contact them and explain why no charges would be filed in Alton Sterling's violent death.

Considering that the DOJ's budget for fiscal year 2016 was $28.7 billion and they have at least 117,298 federal employees, you'd think they'd have the resources and presence of mind to make sure that the someone in the department visited, or at the very least picked up a phone and called the Sterling family to let them know.

It was only after news of no federal charges being filed went public on Tuesday that officials from the DOJ contacted the Sterling family to inform them on Wednesday according to Chris Stewart, one of the Sterling family attorneys.

Urban League CEO Marc Morial
All of this begs the very real question: is this an indicator of the Trump administration's plans for public policy in terms of federal oversight of state and local law enforcement in cases of clear excessive use of force by police, or racially-biased policing?

Is this the kind of interaction with the Department of Justice that people of color and Hispanics in America who've had their rights violated can expect under Jeff Sessions?

It would seem so according to "Protect Our Progress: The State of Black America 2017", the annual report issued by the Urban League on Tuesday that examines economic well-being, healthcare, education and criminal justice to gauge the outlook on quality of life for African-Americans for the next four years under the Trump administration.

From my perspective, the DOJ's bungled handling of delivering the news of the decision not to file federal charges against police officers Salamoni and Lake in the death of Alton Sterling is a reflection of the chaotic flip-flop hypocrisy of Trump's presidency.

Back on August 17, 2016 as he was polling at 1% with African-Americans, he gave a speech near Milwaukee after two nights of protests in the city after police shot and killed a black man - Trump said, "There's no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct for anyone."

In the same speech he said, "I'm asking for the vote of every African-American citizen struggling in our country today who wants a different and much better future."

But once he was in office his Department of Justice tried to undo agreements on policing reforms that had been carefully negotiated with police departments with histories of rampant racially-biased policing in cities like Chicago and Baltimore.

And Justice For All?
During the 2016 campaign he lambasted political opponents for being involved in military conflicts in the middle east, even though he himself said he supported military action in Iraq on the Howard Stern Show in '02.

Once in office he ordered the U.S. Navy to fire 59 missiles into Syria and dropped a massive bomb on Afghanistan.

Now he's sword-rattling with North Korea.

When Trump was trying to bash China to enflame disenfranchised American workers who've watched their jobs disappear overseas to vote for him during the election, he promised he would label China a currency manipulator within the first 100 days of being in office.

But on April 6th the Chinese government approved three trademarks for his daughter-wife Ivanka's clothing line - six days later on April 12th, just days after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump famously reversed months of anti-Chinese campaign rhetoric and announced that China was "not a currency manipulator."

The only consistent thing about Trump and his presidency is that he lies and changes his policy positions almost daily to suit his own needs.

And so while he tried to woo African-Americans with fake assurances that he would bring "law and order" to communities around the nation last year during the campaign, last week his Department of Justice decided not to use its vast resources to ensure law and order for Alton Sterling.

As Urban League CEO Marc Morial was quoted as saying about the prospects for quality of life for African-Americans under Trump according to Washington Post article by Tracy Jan on Tuesday:

Alton Sterling's son calls for peaceful protests in
the wake of his father's shooting
"The social cancer of hate continues to metastasize, thriving in a climate conducive to hostility towards religious and racial minorities, permeating even at the highest levels of national discourse and threatening to further crack our fractured nation."

When Trump delivered his inauguration speech on January 20th, he said he wanted to unify the country.

So what's his goal with refusing to even comment on the Sterling case? Or the case of Jordan Edwards in Texas?

By willfully turning a blind eye to the epidemic of racially-biased policing in this nation, evidenced by innocent unarmed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards being shot in the head with a rifle six days ago by recently-fired Texas police officer Roy Oliver, he's allowing the social cancer of hate to spread.

Trump's the guy who finds time to Tweet about Arnold Schwarzenegger's crappy ratings on NBC's The Apprentice, but on cases of overt violence against ethnic and religious minorities? Silence.

By refusing to show even a shred of leadership on this issue, or use the power of the DOJ to ensure justice for all, Jeff Sessions and Trump are, as the dissident Soviet writer, teacher and activist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote, "ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations."

And so the task of holding Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake legally responsible for killing Alton Sterling falls upon the state of Louisiana - that's an aspect of law and order that the Trump administration clearly wants nothing to do with.

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