Deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were clearly unjustified

Last week was heartwrenching, to say the least. Two cases of police brutality occurred just a few hours apart from each other with disturbing video footage of both scattered throughout the internet. On Tuesday, July 5, Alton Sterling died in Baton Rouge, LA on the ground with five shots to his chest, and Philando Castile was shot four times and killed in Falcon Heights, MN on Wednesday night. Both cases were infuriating, not just because these two deaths add to the long list of racially biased policing incidents, but also because of how some confidently believe that the police officers’ actions were necessary in both scenarios.

From what I can piece together through different articles about Sterling’s death and the videos, there was absolutely no reason for one of the two police officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, to pull out his gun and shoot an already restrained man multiple times in the chest at point blank range.

Salamoni and Lake responded to a call from a homeless man who was threatened by Sterling when he showed the man that he was carrying a gun. This kind of report understandably alerted the officers to be ready if the situation were to go awry. However, that’s where I find the first glitch in the story. What happened between the time the officers arrived and Sterling was pinned to the ground that required the use of force? The articles I have read in CNN, the New York Times, CBS and more all seem to immediately skip to Sterling being restrained on the ground with gunshots to his chest.

Let’s say the officers did encounter a heated situation and they had logical reasons to force Sterling onto the ground. From what I can tell in the video footage, both officers were on top of Sterling, preventing him from moving his hands or legs. Sterling is seen struggling to escape, to no avail. Then, for some unknown explanation, the officer closest to Sterling’s head pulled out his gun, shouted at Sterling to stop moving and then pulled the trigger five times.

There were two videos of Sterling’s death that was released. Regardless of how many times I’ve watched both videos, there is no evidence in the footage that suggests Sterling was able to physically overpower the officers. There was absolutely no possible way Sterling could’ve freed himself with two men on top of him. Therefore, there was no apparent threat against Salamoni and Lake that would require one of them to pull out a gun.

It just makes no sense to me. I’m not a detective and I have no qualifications to examine a crime, but I don’t understand how anyone could side with the officers in this incident. Their actions were completely unnecessary and the videos clearly show that both of them were either unprepared for the situation or not trained properly to handle such a scenario.

Many people argue that Sterling already had committed a few crimes before. Yes, Sterling had a criminal record and he was a registered sex offender. He has been convicted for illegally carrying firearms, fighting an officer and domestic violence. However, when were cops allowed to freely shoot anyone with a criminal record?

Some argue that this incident had nothing to do with Sterling being black. They proclaim that Sterling was shot because he was struggling and not complying with the officers’ orders. Fine, let’s just review the incident without considering the race of the police officers and Sterling. We’re still left with two cops shooting a powerless man.

Sure, Sterling was struggling and trying to break free. That’s a basic human reaction. Even gazelles squirm while being mauled by a cheetah. I’m confident that both Salamoni and Lake had their fair share of interacting with people who struggle during arrests. Both Salamoni and Lake are experienced cops and I’m sure they have had at least a handful of cases where they successfully handled someone who was resisting an arrest. Yet, their best idea to prevent Sterling from struggling was to shoot him.

These incidents give resounding affirmation that there needs to be change in how police officers are allowed to fulfill their responsibilities. I’m not entirely against the police. They protect communities and establish peaceful order. As these cases of police violence amass, however, community’s distrust of the police will continue to widen the divide.