In today’s op-ed Hernandez delves into the Alton Sterling shooting and claims made thereof. Mad Duo
“Innocent” Alton Sterling “Murdered”? [by Racist Cops]
On July 5th, 2016, a new American saint was canonized. His holy act was to be innocent, black, and murdered for no reason by racist police officers. His murder was recorded on two videos, leaving no question that he was gunned down just for being black. The innocent black man in question was named Alton Sterling, and he has joined Michael Brown in the special section of heaven reserved for martyrs in the fight against oppression.
The only problem with what I just said? It’s not true. Sterling’s shooting, like Michael Brown’s, was legally and morally justified. And fortunately we have video to prove it.
WHAT STARTED IT ALL
That night, a homeless man called 911 and reported that he had been threatened by Sterling outside a convenience store. The homeless man said he had asked Sterling for money, but Sterling showed him a gun and ordered him to go away. Police responded and found Sterling in the parking lot.
The convenience store owner, who knew Sterling, said he didn’t see a confrontation between Sterling and the homeless man. He said nobody was waving a gun, and that “It would have been a very big problem to pull [Sterling’s] gun out.” The store owner had surveillance cameras outside, and says the videos were confiscated as evidence. Those videos should come out in time.
Keep in mind: you don’t have to “wave a gun” to threaten someone with it. If it’s in your pocket, you can pull the grip out just enough to show someone you’re armed. As far as we know now, the homeless man said Sterling simply showed him the weapon, not that he waved it. And since some readers are surely thinking it, they’re right: homeless people are often full of crap. But they’re not always lying, and we don’t ignore their 911 calls.
The two videos we’ve seen so far don’t show the initial police contact. When the video starts we see the officers standing back from Sterling giving him verbal commands. Neither officer appears to have their weapons drawn at that point. As a cop, that suggests to me that the officers didn’t accept the homeless man’s claim at face value; instead, they kept their distance, kept Sterling’s hands in view, and ordered him to comply with a patdown. He apparently refused to comply, which led to a physical confrontation.
One video shows the beginning of that confrontation.
The video begins with what looks like the officers trying to physically restrain Sterling.
That attempt failed. They backed off, faced Sterling and give him an order. He didn’t comply. We hear the pop of a Taser, but see no effect. The camera moves, and we hear a second pop. The second attempt fails. Ten seconds after the first attempt to restrain Sterling, an officer tackled Sterling against a car.
Sterling wound up on his back, parallel to a car’s front bumper, with his right arm under the bumper. One officer immediately straddled him, the other knelt on Sterling’s left arm and tried to restrain him.
Take note: anti-police activists often criticize police for “shooting first”. That didn’t happen here. The officers didn’t immediately shoot or even draw their weapons. Activists also ask “Why didn’t the cops just Tase him?” Well, they did. Tasers aren’t wonder weapons, and the two Taser shots didn’t work.
KEEP THIS IN MIND
The officers didn’t punch Sterling. They didn’t beat him with batons. They didn’t kick or knee him. They didn’t yell racial insults. They tried commands, empty hand control, a Taser, and finally tackled him. Partly because Sterling’s right arm was difficult to access under the car’s bumper, and partly because Sterling was 300 pounds and probably pretty damn strong, the officers couldn’t get that arm under control.
A second, clearer video begins after Sterling is on the ground:
In this video, Sterling’s right arm is out of sight, apparently down by his side.
Then we hear an officer yell, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” as Sterling’s upper right arm moves perpendicular to his body in what looks like a drawing motion.
The officer kneeling on Sterling’s arm draws his weapon and points it at Sterling’s chest, but doesn’t fire. The officer straddling Sterling yells, “You fucking move, I swear to god!”
Sterling’s upper arm moves down out of sight again. The officer on Sterling’s left arm fires. We see the officer straddling Sterling roll off, apparently while firing. He nearly rolls into the other officer’s line of fire. The two officers together reportedly fired six rounds, most of which appear to have hit Sterling’s upper chest. One officer then goes to Sterling’s right front pocket, and takes what looks like a small pistol.
The officer didn’t search everywhere for a pistol until he found one. He went right for Sterling’s right front pocket, where he had apparently seen the gun during the struggle.
These facts are worth recounting:
- The caller said Sterling had a gun;
- The officers yelled out during the struggle that Sterling had a gun; and
- An officer took what appears to be a gun from Sterling’s pocket.
Let me add two more:
- The convenience store owner (who calls the shooting “murder”) said Sterling had a gun; “As a convicted felon, Sterling wouldn’t have been permitted to have a gun, but Muflahi [the store owner] and others who knew him said kept one to protect himself from robbers.” And
- A man claiming to be Sterling’s friend said Sterling bought a gun the day before he was shot.
All this leads me to believe Sterling had a gun. The Baton Rouge Police Department hasn’t confirmed that yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming. I considered the possibility that Sterling had a toy gun, but dismissed it. He probably wouldn’t have resisted police to stop them from finding a toy.
STERLING’S GUN IS HUGELY SIGNIFICANT
Sterling was a convicted felon; while many will say this is irrelevant because the officers didn’t know Sterling’s history, it’s actually tremendously important because it shows why Sterling did what he did. He was a registered sex offender, living in a halfway house, with a gun in his pocket. He knew he’d go back to prison if he was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Heavy.com published this summary of Sterling’s criminal history:
Sterling had resisted arrest before, and on one occasion a gun fell out of his pants during a struggle with police officers. The Baltimore Sun wrote, “And in 2009, as an officer attempted to frisk him for weapons, Sterling allegedly tried to run and was thrown to the ground, where he ‘ignored officer commands,’ another police affidavit states, and ‘kept trying to reach for his left pocket for an [unknown] item. While wrestling with the defendant on the ground, a black semi auto gun fell from his waist band.’”
So Sterling was a convicted felon, illegally carrying a gun, who resisted lawful arrest just as he had in the past.
“BUT HE DIDN’T HAVE THE GUN IN HIS HAND! THAT MAKES IT MURDER!”
No, it doesn’t. Do people actually think police can’t shoot a suspect until he actually draws and points a gun at them? The New York Daily News, apparently staffed by the most inflammatory journalists in America, published this on their front page after the shooting:
The New York Daily News doesn’t know that real life isn’t TV. Most of America has spent decades watching scripted gunfights where every last movement is choreographed to be unmistakable to the viewer. Threats become perfectly clear before the hero, usually in slow motion, outdraws the villain in the nick of time and fires a single, gunfight-ending shot. Reality isn’t like that. Actual gunfights are dirty, ugly, brutal, and fast. Anyone who reasonably perceives a threat from an armed suspect but waits until the gun is in the suspect’s hand is asking to get shot.
You’re asleep at home. The sound of glass shattering wakes you up. You get out of bed, grab your pistol and head to the front room. When you turn on the light you see a disheveled man unplugging your TV. He looks at you in surprise. You point your gun at him and order him to get out of your house. He stands, faces you, lifts his shirt to expose the grip of a battered revolver, and grabs it while taking a step toward you.
Would you shoot? I sure as hell would. And guess what? If you shot that burglar you’d be 100% legally and morally justified, and if you fired before he completed his draw HIS HANDS WOULD BE EMPTY AFTER YOU SHOT HIM. That wouldn’t mean you committed murder.
Another important point: Sterling never got his pistol out of his pocket, but you can actually fire a pistol from inside a pocket. Pockets do not have a special force field that automatically disable every pistol known to man. If you grab a pistol in your pocket and pull the trigger, it will fire just like it’s supposed to.
Others have made an issue out of the fact that Sterling was pinned to the ground when shot, as if shooting someone on the ground is automatically murder. If you believe that, try this experiment: put a small but life-size toy gun in your pocket. Lay on your back. Pull the toy gun from your pocket.
Lesson learned. Someone on their back can still draw a gun.
WHAT IF STERLING WAS JUST TRYING TO GET RID OF THE GUN, NOT TRYING TO SHOOT THE OFFICERS?
That’s a good question, and to tell the truth, that was my gut reaction. Sterling had a history of arrests for assaults, but doesn’t seem to have ever attacked an officer. Most people who resist arrest, or don’t comply with an arrest but don’t actively resist, are just trying to get away. Some dedicated criminals are pretty smart, and if they have a gun when cops come around they’ll try to ditch it. I’ve been on many scenes where criminals threw guns rather than shoot it out with us, and I’ve had one robber throw a gun while we had hands on him. I’d be willing to bet Sterling was just trying to toss the gun away, in hope he wouldn’t be arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Unfortunately, the officers had no way of knowing that. Many critics of this shooting have pointed out that the officers had no way of knowing Sterling’s criminal history when they arrived; that’s true, and it works both ways. The officers saw the suspect trying to draw a gun he was reported to have, and had no reason to believe he wasn’t trying to shoot them. If you’re on the ground wrestling with a big guy who has already reportedly threatened someone with a gun, and you see him trying to draw a gun, that’s probably not the time to give his intentions the benefit of the doubt.
TO WRAP IT UP
I honestly don’t know why the Sterling shooting is viewed as “police murdering an innocent black man for no reason”. Sterling wasn’t racially profiled, someone called the police on him. Sterling wasn’t an innocent black man killed for exercising his 2nd Amendment rights, he was a longtime criminal and convicted felon illegally carrying a gun. Sterling wasn’t immediately shot, instead the officers tried verbal commands, empty hand control, a Taser, and eventually wrestled him to the ground and tried to cuff him while giving clear verbal commands. Sterling tried to draw a gun, the officers saw the gun, and even then they drew and gave commands instead of immediately firing.
I’m not sure what more we can reasonably expect from the two officers involved.
Yes, it sucks that someone died when they didn’t have to. Sterling could have avoided the entire problem by just complying the officers’ lawful commands, or by not showing his gun to a homeless guy in the first place. He didn’t have to resist, he didn’t have to try to draw his gun. His choices led to the final result.
Could the officers have handled it differently? Of course they could have. They could have driven away and pretended like the whole thing never happened, but that’s not their job. Their job is to respond to calls, no matter who makes them, and enforce the law. Sometimes those laws are stupid, like the “loose cigarettes” law that led to Eric Garner’s death in New York City. But laws preventing felons from threatening people with guns aren’t stupid. And officers aren’t wrong to arrest felons who threaten people with guns they’re not supposed to have.
The knee-jerk uproar in this case makes no sense. There is no evidence – not one single thing – that shows the two officers were racist. There is evidence, on the other hand, that Sterling was an armed criminal who had just committed a crime and resisted (or at least refused to comply with) a lawful, moral, and reasonable arrest. The officers who shot him shouldn’t be vilified for doing nothing wrong.
I have an honest message for the Black Lives Matter movement: I think you guys have a legitimate point. Yes there has been police bias against blacks in the not-so-distant past, yes there is some bias today, and yes some recent police shootings were flat-out murder (such as the Walter Scott shooting in South Carolina). But Alton Sterling’s shooting was nothing like Walter Scott’s, and Alton Sterling wasn’t an innocent man harassed for no reason by racist cops.
If BLM wants to make a real, positive change, don’t make Alton Sterling your hero the way you made Michael Brown your hero. There are actual innocent victims of criminal cops who you should rally around. But by making Alton Sterling your “symbolic victim of racist oppression”, you undercut your own cause and credibility.
Breach-Bang & CLEAR!
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.
Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LITE writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley, Proof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.