The US Justice Department has decided not to charge two white police officers over the shooting of a black man that sparked massive protests, reports say. The state of Louisiana may open its own investigation.
The police officers who fatally shot a man selling homemade CDs outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July 2016 will not be charged with a crime, the US Justice Department ruled on Tuesday.
Following the ruling, dozens of people gathered outside the store and held a vigil, chanting "No justice, no peace."
"It's been almost a year and we're still suffering like it happened yesterday," said the victim's aunt, Veda Sterling. "We need closure. We need a conviction. We need justice."
Shooting in Baton Rouge
Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot by two white police officers at point-blank range. The shooting was recorded on cellphones and quickly shared on social media. Baton Rouge police said they have dashcam and bodycam video of the shooting, as well as store surveillance video of the shooting, but have not released any of the video. The coroner's report of Sterling's autopsy has been sealed.
The police report on the shooting said Sterling was shocked by a stun gun after refusing to follow the officers' orders to put his hands on the hood of a car. The report also says Sterling was reaching for a gun in one of his pockets before he was shot.
While Sterling, a convicted felon, could not legally carry a firearm, the police officers involved were called to the store after reports of Sterling threatening people with a gun. The Baton Rouge police chief said Sterling was armed. The store owner has said Sterling was not holding a gun outside the store, but he saw officers remove a gun from his pocket after the incident.
The officers were placed on administrative leave following the shooting, which is standard procedure for Baton Rouge police.
The shooting in Baton Rouge set off protests across the country, including this protest near the Baton Rouge police headquarters
Protests across the country
Protesters saw the shooting in Baton Rouge as a racially motivated death at the hands of police, similar to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Protests took place across the US in the wake of killings of black men by predominately white police forces.
"This dystopic vision should have been part of America's past, but - thanks to the white supremacist administration of Donald Trump and his racist cronies like Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon - it's become our present," wrote Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, a racial justice group. Tuesday's decision, Robinson added in his statement, shows the Justice Department believes "black lives do not matter."
Amnesty International USA said the Sterling case shows the "dire need for a nationwide review of laws governing when and how police should use deadly force."
kbd/rt (AFP, AP)