No more than 24 hours elapsed between the fatal shootings of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Their deaths reaped concern and criticism from those who mourn yet another loss, while also heightening the debates for and against gun rights, and police authority.
On Tuesday, July 5, 2016, Sterling was fatally shot six times by the police after being violently forced on the ground. A 48-second video shot from inside a bystander’s vehicle depicts Sterling and the police at a distance, with one police officer restraining him. According to CNN, a homeless man initially reported Sterling, who was outside a Baton Rouge convenience store, selling CDs and DVDs. He asked Sterling for money, and he adamantly replied for the man to leave him alone. The homeless man proceeded to call 911.
“Get on the fucking ground,” shouted one of the two officers, as he proceeds to push Sterling to the ground, against a car that moves as a result of the force. The other officer shouts, “he’s got a gun,” and while still being held in a position of surrender, two shots are audible. The passengers in vehicle exclaim words of distress, as a woman cries. The officers claim that Sterling possessed a gun, which further motivated his shooting when the officer became suspicious. However, Louisiana is an open-carry state; therefore, residents are permitted, with certain restriction, to “publicly carry a firearm in plain sight.”
There are two videos of the incident circulating the Internet, with slight variance in angles. The video has surfaced on various social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, with an initial graphic content warning. Some debate how many shots are fired at Sterling, with some saying two shots, while others say six shots. People have shared the video as a means of educating people of the undeniable particulars of police brutality.
Sterling, however, is not the only death that has stirred up anguish with the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. The death of Castile shocked others not only due to its timing in relation to Sterling’s death, but also the seeming dispensability of black lives with little progress made.
On Wednesday, July 6, 2016, Castile was driving on a Minnesota highway with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter in tow. He was pulled over by the police due to the discovery of a broken taillight. When he was pulled over, he was asked to show his license and registration. As he reached to retrieve the items, the officer shot him multiple times in the arm, despite, allegedly, informing the officer that he was legally carrying a gun, and had a valid permit to carry, as per Minnesota law. His wounds were not promptly addressed, and he later died due to his injuries. His death was declared a homicide one week later.
Reynolds live-streamed the tragic event on Facebook. It starts seconds after the shooting as Castile struggles to retain his life, and concludes with Reynolds situated in the back of a police car with her daughter, asking for a ride. The nine-minute video depicts her as distressed and pleading for his life, also addressed at the beginning with a graphic content warning.
In a subsequent live-streamed video posted on Facebook, Reynolds explained the tragedy, as cameras and neighbors encircle her. “He begins to yell, ‘Don’t move! Don’t move!’” she said of the officer, questioning in hindsight his demand. “It’s either you want my hands in the air, or you want my identification. I can’t do two things at one time,” she asserted firmly.
Police chief Rick Mathwig refuted Reynolds’ statements, despite the circulation of clear evidence. He acknowledged it was, “a chaotic affair,” but said, “Roseville officers performed professional, caring CPR on Mr. Castile and tried to save his life.”
Reynolds showed the video on social media because, “I [Reynolds] didn’t do it for pity. I didn’t do it for fame…I wanted to put it on Facebook to go viral so the PEOPLE could see. I wanted the PEOPLE to determine who was wrong.”
Hashtags have been trending in honor of the late men, as well as brought further controversy over the debate between “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter.” The latter phrase is often used in conjunction with “Blue Lives Matter,” referencing the five police shot in Dallas, Texas, on July 7, an event that was, “the kind of retaliatory violence that people have feared through two years of protests against death in police custody.” It is often cited as a detractive statement, sweeping the issue of race under the rug.
Despite the tragic deaths of Sterling and Castile, the movement to uncover justice still remains strong in the hope that justice can be sought for people of color, and that the rhetoric between citizens and police can be amended.