In Cold Blood: Why The Killing of Alton Sterling Requires Us To Stay Woke and Take Action

Protestors gather at the intersection of N. Foster and Fairfields after Sterling's death.
Protestors gather at the intersection of N. Foster and Fairfields after Sterling’s death.

I woke up this morning to the news that another Black man was killed by Baton Rouge police officers  Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake. That man was 37 year old Alton Sterling, a father of five. My social media newsfeeds were flooded by commentary on the shooting. Some sharing the emotionally charged video and others opting out of watching yet another Black man murdered in cold blood.  People are outraged and rightfully so. It is becoming rather tiresome seeing these videos, but not watching doesn’t change a thing. Not doing anything doesn’t change a thing either. And yet here we are, again, a community grappling with what steps to take to stop these incidents from occurring; another body, another murder, another day of hashtags and another name to add to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

It didn’t take long for the news sites to dig into Alton Sterling’s past, because of course, a criminal past makes these police shootings more acceptable. Except, that the officers weren’t aware of Sterling’s alleged criminal past when they killed him. Some news outlets are reporting that Sterling had a gun on him. Officers involved in these types of killings always use the “he had a gun” defense to justify their actions even when it has been proven that the victim was unarmed. I don’t know if Alton Sterling indeed had a gun. I don’t know if he had a criminal past (not that it matters, but they always use it as an excuse). I don’t know if he indeed posed a threat to the officers, but officers are trained to handle these situations. They are trained to diffuse and de-escalate if and when possible. Too many of them are getting it wrong and not being held accountable and that’s why people are enraged, angry, and tired.

I know I am. I’m tired of waking up in the morning to stories of another man being senselessly murdered. I’m tired of hearing about the victim’s criminal past as an excuse for being gunned down as if past transgressions are reasons to be killed. I’m tired of watching the news and being thankful I have daughters. Though that doesn’t mean much when you consider Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Tenisha Anderson and the many other murdered women of color who don’t make the news. The ones who are disposable, terrorized on their own streets, by the very people sworn to protect them.

I am not here criticizing the officers who get it right, the ones who do their job, the ones who serve their communities the way they’re supposed to; with respect and value for human life, for all lives. This is not about them. This is about the blatant disregard of our lives and the lack of accountability of those who get it wrong, the ones who abuse their power, and the ones who have documented patterns of abuse, yet are still allowed to patrol our streets. This is about the Scott Aldridges (Cleveland PD)  the Daniel Willises, (Bastrop County PD, Texas), the Phil Atkinses (NYPD), the Daniel Pantaleos (NYPD), the Darren Wilsons (Ferguson PD) and the many others who get it wrong.

You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it. –Malcolm X

Who do we call to police the police when so many of them are not being held accountable for their improper use of force?  They say history repeats itself and we are at the crossroads of this generation’s civil rights movement. But movement requires action, leadership, and direction. There are many who are heeding the call and are out on the front lines protesting , fighting, using their voice, and their celebrity, but there are still equally as many who are not. We call for people to #staywoke, but many of us are busy taking selfies and posting status updates while our public servants are busy taking our lives. Black lives matter has to be more than just a hashtag.

Malcolm X once said, “Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” In order to effect change we must get angry, we must mobilize; me must stand up to injustice and fight for our freedom. The freedom to walk the street at night with a hoodie in whatever neighborhood we choose. The freedom to stand on any corner we choose and breathe. The freedom to question our detainment whether justified or not and not worry that we won’t make it out alive. The freedom to be black, brown, woman, child. The freedom to just be.

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