Louisiana is an open-carry state. Alton Sterling had a gun that he never drew. The man was shot by police when he was on the ground.
Justin Cohen writes, “Be aware of a few standard, and racist, media tropes about Black victims. In the wake of police executions, you are bound to hear a few things that distract from the real issues. One of those storylines is that ‘he was no angel,’ wherein the media will outline the various ways in which the victim behaved inappropriately in the past. None of this matters, and it certainly does not change the fact that the police killed the person outside of any legal process. I smoked pot when I was in high school, for example, and if the police used that as justification to murder me, that would be ludicrous.”
I am not a black man selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I am a white woman who edits from a comfortable home in the fried-chickenless (but liberal) Northern Wastes. Denial is a way that many people distance themselves from a man like Sterling. “He must have done something,” or “He shouldn’t have been selling [possibly pirated] CDs.”
It might not have been legal, but it (as other people have said better than me) is not a capitol offense. I like how Cohen makes the comparison of Sterling being shot to him being shot for smoking pot in high school. It brings the metaphor home. Let’s apply some critical thinking to this situation. We can stop claiming denial that the person somehow brought this upon himself. (And we know what that argument sounds like.)
The right not be killed by the police is a basic human right. The problem is widespread and institutional. It’s not that all white police are racists. It’s that there is a system of laws, media, and entertainment that criminalizes men of color. When a police car passes me in my medium-sized, relatively peaceful town, I do not expect to be harassed. I don’t think I would be that easy in mind if I were black. The next town over is diverse, but mine is pretty white.
A black hoodie and shorts on a small white woman is read quite differently than a black hoodie and shorts on a big black man. And that’s ridiculous. I would crack a joke about how wearing a hoodie (particularly in the Northern Wastes) is human right as well. But we all know what happened to Trayvon Martin.