Baton Rouge in Painful Turmoil Days After Alton Sterling’s Death

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A group of people, some identifying themselves as family members of Alton Sterling, gathered Sunday afternoon in a parking lot near the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge.

That’s where Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was killed July 5 at the hands of two Baton Rouge police officers.

The family members, who declined to give their names, were discussing the deaths of three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers Sunday morning.

The officers were killed in what Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden called an ambush attack.

“Stop the violence,” one family member said. “Bring justice to Alton Sterling. We send our love and prayers to the officers and their families. But we still demand justice for Alton Sterling.”

Asked what can others do to help, they said, “Stand together and pray. That’s all we can do.”

Sunday’s fatal police shooting was the latest in two weeks of turmoil that has thrust Baton Rouge into the national debate on policing and race relations.

Alton Sterling’s death, along with the police shooting of a black man in Minnesota and the attack on police officers in Dallas, triggered protests in Baton Rouge and across the nation.

The Sterling shooting also prompted a civil rights investigation by the Justice Department.

About 200 protesters were arrested in Baton Rouge last week, and the ACLU of Louisiana on Wednesday filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Police Department and others for violating the First Amendment rights of demonstrators.

Around the city, residents were weighing the gravity of recent events.

“I think if you have sympathy for the death of Alton Sterling, you have sympathy for the deaths of the officers, as well,” said Cleve Dunn Jr., a Baton Rouge businessman.

Dunn helped organize a march in downtown Baton Rouge last week.

“We ask for justice through the legal system,” he said. “These actions don’t create a safe environment for anybody. It puts police on high alert and doesn’t help with encounters between police and black or brown people.

“Shooting police and killing police is not what we condone.”

Jeffery Collins of Baton Rouge sat outside a Circle K convenience store near the site where the officers were shot Sunday, watching news media and police.

As a young black man in north Baton Rouge, he said, he’s used to being harassed by police. But he’s not used to black men being shot to death by police officers, he said.

“We just know to stay away or run out of the way,” he said.

The Alton Sterling shooting, he said, shocked the community.

“A lot of people never thought it would happen down here. I think it’s just the police. They have too much power. They think they can get away with it.”

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Source: USA Today | Claire Taylor and Jessica Goff, Lafayette (La.) Advertiser