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Alton Sterling was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police officers. Here’s what we know.

Jul 7 '16 | By La Afrique Media | Views: 264 | Comments: 0


Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who was shot and killed by Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police.Facebook

In his last few seconds of life, Alton Sterling seemed completely immobile. Two Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officers had pinned him to the floor, flat on his back. But even as Sterling seemed completely unable to move, one of the police officers yelled, "He’s got a gun!" Within seconds, an officer shot Sterling, who was still pinned to the ground by the cops. Sterling died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to an autopsy.

After a bystander released video of the shooting, people quickly protested in the area and voiced their anger on social media. Several people went to the convenience store where Sterling was shot, holding up "black lives matter" and "hands up, don’t shoot" signs, Maya Lau and Bryn Stole reported for the Advocate.

Sterling’s death is the latest in a long string of police shootings to lead to outrage, particularly from the Black Lives Matter and racial justice movements against racial disparities in the criminal justice system. To many critics, it is just another example of an issue that quickly rose to the national spotlight after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.

Police officers shot Alton Sterling while he was seemingly pinned to the ground, unable to move

Warning: graphic footage of a police shooting:

According to the Advocate, Baton Rouge police officers Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake responded to a call at a convenience store around 12:35 am on Tuesday after receiving an anonymous tip that a man in a red shirt who was selling CDs had pointed a gun at someone. Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, matched part of the description: He sold CDs, and he was wearing a red shirt.

Two cellphone videos recorded by bystanders, one published by the Daily Beast after the shooting drew national attention, show what happened next: Two police officers yelled at Sterling to get on the ground. The officers then pulled him to the ground, pinning Sterling on his back. An officer yelled, "He’s got a gun!" One officer aimed his gun at Sterling’s chest at virtually point-blank range. Within seconds, at least one officer opened fire, even though Sterling looks completely pinned down and unable to move. One officer then pulled out an object — it’s not clear what it is — from Sterling’s right pants pocket. Sterling was pronounced dead shortly after.

Warning: extremely graphic footage of a police shooting:

Shop owner Abdullah Muflahi told the Advocate that the officers were "aggressive" from the start, and that Sterling was armed but was not holding his gun and didn’t have his hand near his pocket at the time of the shooting.

District Attorney Hillar Moore said the officers felt "completely justified" in shooting.

Both officers are on administrative leave, per Baton Rouge Police Department policy, and an investigation, led by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, is underway. Both officers were reportedly wearing body cameras, and the police car had a dashboard camera as well.

As the Advocate reported, Sterling had a criminal record. But Sterling’s previous convictions aren’t what’s relevant to the shooting; it’s whether he was holding and trying to use a gun on the officers at the time he was shot. The legal standard for use of force requires officers to reasonably perceive a threat at the moment of use of force.

Since Sterling was seemingly immobile in the videos of the shooting, critics argue that he was not in fact a threat and the shooting is another example of excessive use of force against a black man.

Black people are much more likely to be killed by police than their white peerspolice shooting by race

Joe Posner/Vox

An analysis of the available FBI data by Vox’s Dara Lind shows that US police kill black people at disproportionate rates: They accounted for 31 percent of police killing victims in 2012, even though they made up just 13 percent of the US population. Although the data is incomplete, since it’s based on voluntary reports from police agencies around the country, it highlights the vast disparities in how police use force.

Black teens were 21 times as likely as white teens to be shot and killed by police between 2010 and 2012, according to a ProPublica analysis of the FBI data. ProPublica’s Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones, and Eric Sagara reported: "One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring — 185, more than one per week."

BLACK TEENS WERE 21 TIMES AS LIKELY AS WHITE TEENS TO BE SHOT AND KILLED BY POLICE BETWEEN 2010 AND 2012

There have been several high-profile police killings since 2014 involving black suspects. In Baltimore, six police officers were indicted for the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. In North Charleston, South Carolina, Michael Slager was charged with murder and fired from the police department after shooting Walter Scott, who was fleeing and unarmed at the time. In Ferguson, Darren Wilson killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. In New York City, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner by putting the unarmed 43-year-old black man in a chokehold.

One possible explanation for the racial disparities: subconscious biases. Studies show that officers are quicker to shoot black suspects in video game simulations. Josh Correll, a University of Colorado Boulder psychology professor who conducted the research, said it’s possible the bias could lead to even more skewed outcomes in the field. "In the very situation in which [officers] most need their training," he said, "we have some reason to believe that their training will be most likely to fail them."

Part of the solution to this type of bias is better training that helps cops acknowledge and deal with their potential subconscious prejudices. But critics also argue that more accountability could help deter future brutality or excessive use of force, since it would make it clear that there are consequences to the misuse and abuse of police powers. Yet right now, lax legal standards make it difficult to legally punish individual police officers for use of force, even when it might be excessive.

Police only have to reasonably perceive a threat to justify shootingA police officer at a shooting range.

Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

Legally, what most matters in these shootings is whether police officers reasonably believed that their lives were in danger, not whether the shooting victim actually posed a threat.

In the 1980s, a pair of Supreme Court decisions — Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor — set up a framework for determining when deadly force by cops is reasonable.

Constitutionally, "police officers are allowed to shoot under two circumstances," David Klinger, a University of Missouri St. Louis professor who studies use of force, told Vox’s Dara Lind. The first circumstance is "to protect their life or the life of another innocent party" — what departments call the "defense-of-life" standard. The second circumstance is to prevent a suspect from escaping, but only if the officer has probable cause to think the suspect poses a dangerous threat to others.

The logic behind the second circumstance, Klinger said, comes from a Supreme Court decision called Tennessee v. Garner. That case involved a pair of police officers who shot a 15-year-old boy as he fled from a burglary. (He’d stolen $10 and a purse from a house.) The court ruled that cops couldn’t shoot every felon who tried to escape. But, as Klinger said, "they basically say that the job of a cop is to protect people from violence, and if you’ve got a violent person who’s fleeing, you can shoot them to stop their flight."

THE KEY TO BOTH OF THE LEGAL STANDARDS IS THAT IT DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER THERE IS AN ACTUAL THREAT WHEN FORCE IS USED

The key to both of the legal standards — defense of life and fleeing a violent felony — is that it doesn’t matter whether there is an actual threat when force is used. Instead, what matters is the officer’s "objectively reasonable" belief that there is a threat.

That standard comes from the other Supreme Court case that guides use-of-force decisions: Graham v. Connor. This was a civil lawsuit brought by a man who’d survived his encounter with police officers, but who’d been treated roughly, had his face shoved into the hood of a car, and broken his foot — all while he was suffering a diabetic attack. The court didn’t rule on whether the officers’ treatment of him had been justified, but it did say that the officers couldn’t justify their conduct just based on whether their intentions were good. They had to demonstrate that their actions were "objectively reasonable," given the circumstances and compared to what other police officers might do.

What’s "objectively reasonable" changes as the circumstances change. "One can’t just say, 'Because I could use deadly force 10 seconds ago, that means I can use deadly force again now," Walter Katz, a California attorney who specializes in oversight of law enforcement agencies, said.

In general, officers are given lot of legal latitude to use force without fear of punishment. The intention behind these legal standards is to give police officers leeway to make split-second decisions to protect themselves and bystanders. And although critics argue that these legal standards give law enforcement a license to kill innocent or unarmed people, police officers say they are essential to their safety.

For some critics, the question isn’t what’s legally justified but rather what’s preventable. "We have to get beyond what is legal and start focusing on what is preventable. Most are preventable," Ronald Davis, a former police chief who heads the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, told the Washington Post. Police "need to stop chasing down suspects, hopping fences, and landing on top of someone with a gun," he added. "When they do that, they have no choice but to shoot."

source: Vox.com

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