The Ordinary Exceptional Circumstances of Alton Sterling

Alton Sterling. The latest trending name of a victim of lethal police violence.

The convenience store. A staple fixture in many neighborhoods. The all-too-common opening scene for a tragic spiral of events that ends in unnecessary death: Kajieme Powell, Shawn Henry Allen Dickens, Joshua Grubb, Akiel Denkins, and so many more.

The body camera. The faux cure-all peddled by policy makers (and others) who spout statistics that they have led to up to an 80% decrease in complaints by civilians since their implementation. These same cameras not only didn’t save Alton Sterling from brutality, but apparently fell off during the ‘altercation.’ Yet instances like the (thankfully non-fatal) shooting of Armand Bennett by a New Orleans officer, who turned her bodycam off before shooting him in the head. Or the shooting of Patrick O’Grady, where the officer ‘did not realize that the camera wasn’t recording’ after failing to properly turn it on. Wearing a body camera did not help James Jarrard, where the officer did not bother to activate his body camera until after the shooting, or in Alameda County, California where none of the 11 officers on the scene turned their body cameras on at all. In another non-fatal shooting of James Hemingway, officers decided not to turn on their cameras for “tactical and strategic reasons” to avoid the light and sound the camera makes while recording. It would appear that body cameras are not only not a panacea, but may actually be no more than a misspecified and inadequate response to potentially lethal police violence towards citizens.

And then there are the calls for justice and the likely hollow DOJ investigation. The President of the NAACP Baton Rouge Chapter, is quoted as saying, “Justice must be served.” Justice, a dish perhaps also best served cold, and unjust. The recent series of acquittals of officers in the Freddie Gray case should make it clear that calls for procedural justice won’t cut it either. One must question what comfort procedural justice may bring when State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby cannot do her job without disbarment charges being filed against her.  It should then come as no surprise that going through the motions does not make us feel that “justice” has been served.

The ordinary exceptional circumstances surrounding Alton’s final moments have left me simultaneously enraged, yet numb. I watched the 49-second video of Alton Sterling’s execution, as I have with so many others, knowing how it ends. And yet, I have seen so many of these killings in similar circumstances and cannot verbalize what makes this so much more egregious than killings past except for the timing and the coverage. With outrage rising, we will see whether this is the case that finally wakes people up and gives them a real glimpse into the type of change we need to see.

by: Portia Allen-Kyle


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