CBC IN BATON ROUGE

Alton Sterling's brother visits scene of police shooting: 'They're picking us off one by one'

High-ranking police officials may not believe that members of their force treat black residents of Baton Rouge like second-class citizens or criminals. But the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling reveals many black Baton Rouge residents do.

Protesters discuss long-standing tensions between black community and Baton Rouge police

Alton Sterling, 37, died early Tuesday morning when he was shot while being detained by two police officers in Baton Rouge, La. The encounter was captured on at least two cellphone videos. (Facebook, Arthur Reed via Associated Press)

GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: Video footage shows killing of Alton Sterling

Under the slightly fading sign of the Baton Rouge Triple S Food Mart, in the shadow of the spot where his older brother Alton Sterling was fatally shot in the chest, Damien Sterling lets out his anger, his grief and his frustration with law enforcement.

"They're picking us off one by one, man. All the people that can make a difference, make a change. They're trying to get rid of each and every one of us. But they can't, but they can't, but they can't, but they can't. Because I'm Alton Sterling."

Distraught and enraged, he stands beside a makeshift memorial, a collection of balloons, teddy bears and Black Lives Matter placards, all to honour his brother Alton, 37, gunned down during an altercation with two white police officers early Tuesday. At the foot of the memorial lay a few candles, where red wax had been sprinkled around on the parking lot ground to look like splattered blood.

According to at least two videos of the deadly confrontation, Sterling, who would regularly sell CDs outside the convenience store, appeared to be already pinned on his back when the shooting took place. And that has led to this north Baton Rouge convenience store, normally a place where people come and go to grab a soft drink or snack, to become a focal point signifying the tensions between police officials and black Americans.

Warning: This video, taken by the store's owner, contains disturbing images and graphic language.
Cellphone footage said to be taken by store’s owner shows death of Anton Sterling 0:38

Several people gathered on the sidewalk to hold up signs calling for justice and elicit honks from passing motorists.

High-ranking police officials may not believe that members of their force treat black residents like second-class citizens or criminals.

Many similar stories 

But many black Baton Rouge residents do.

 "If I call 911, they're going to handle me like I'm shit, like I'm nothing, like I'm not even a person," DamienSterling said.

Dalyn Morgan, 4, came with his grandmother to protest the shooting.

Speak to local black residents, not activists or politicians, and they will share many similar stories — that they've been hassled, stopped or questioned by police just for being black.

"Nine times out of 10, they mess with you for no reason. That's a prime example of it right there," said Daniel Brown, pointing to the spot where Sterling was killed.

"When you get off [work], you got to worry about  'Am I going to get stopped today?'" said Alton Wallace. "And if I do get stopped, how will it go? Will I get shot? Will I get something planted on me and go to jail? What will happen? You never know."

"They will harass you. I got pulled over two years ago for doing 36 in a 35," he said. And had it been a white person driving? It would have been a different outcome, he said.

Alton Wallace would purchase CDs from Sterling every Tuesday, and he had just pulled out of the convenience store parking lot when he saw the officers arriving, unaware of what was to transpire. (Mark Gollom/CBC News)

So too would there have been a different conclusion had Sterling been white, Wallace said.

He would purchase CDs from Sterling every Tuesday, and he had just pulled out of the convenience store parking lot when he saw the officers arriving, unaware of what was to transpire.

Police had been called to the convenience store following a report of a man with a gun. Ronnie Horton, who just hours before the shooting had purchased CDs from Sterling for his young daughter, said Sterling told him he needed a gun for protection because a friend of his, who also sold CDs, had been robbed. 

It's unlikely Sterling had a permit for the gun because he was a convicted felon, and Horton said Sterling suggested to him as much. But a lawyer representing members of the Sterling family said that point is moot because police didn't  know that at that time.

Ronnie Horton, who just hours before the shooting had purchased CDs from Sterling for his young daughter, said Sterling told him he needed a gun for protection because a friend of his, who also sold CDs, had been robbed. (Mark Gollom/CBC News)

Horton said police seem to treat white Baton Rouge residents who own guns differently than black residents.

"White dudes walk into the store like they're cops with their concealed weapons on their side. But we can't do it because, what, they think we have an attitude problem?" Horton said.

Several of the residents who spoke to CBC News made it clear there are good and bad police officers and they don't believe all Baton Rouge officers have an issue with black residents. But too many of them do, they said, and it has led to a poor relationship between law enforcement and the community.

Many of the protesters outside the convenience store, like Joshua Wilson, held up signs calling for justice and encouraged honks from passing motorists. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

"I would say, overall, the relationship between the cops is not the worst it could be like in some cities, but it's not good. It's far from good," said Joshua Wilson, 25.

'No trust'

He said police need to make more of an effort to be part of the community.

"There's no trust between the police officers because we don't know them and they don't know us."

A partial solution, said resident Brittany Wilson, is to have more black police officers patrol in predominantly black communities

"I feel like if we would have had two black cops pull up here, it would have been totally different. We wouldn't have had this. It wouldn't have escalated to this at all."

About the Author

Mark Gollom

Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.