Emotion is the death of reason
In the case of Alton Sterling, 37, killed by police on July 5, 2016, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana:
To our collective society—I blame you for either using race as a crutch or for refusing to admit the possibility that there was police wrongdoing, both before sufficient evidence was confirmed or denied. Emotional reactions do nothing but worsen the situation for every party involved. I blame you more than anyone else for the violent backlash that likely led to the murders of eight innocent police officers.
To some African-American communities across the country—I blame you for fostering an environment that teaches your children to distrust the police and disrespect authority. More importantly, you’re at fault for not ridding your community of such an ideology the moment it became prevalent.
To some police forces across the country—I blame you for, even once, giving those African-American communities reason to distrust you and for using ignorance as a guide for police work. As public servants, you are held to a higher standard. If the morals of the communities you police sink low, your job is to do everything in your power to raise them back up, not join them in the muck.
To Officers Lake and Salamoni—I blame you for not doing absolutely everything humanly possible to avoid Sterling’s death. I don’t blame you for protecting yourself, but that’s not exactly what evidence shows. Maybe you did everything in your power to subdue Sterling. You tased him. You tackled him. When you thought he produced a gun, you shot him. For that, I don’t blame you. But the question remains: was his death necessary? Did you need to shoot him three times in the chest? In other jobs, not doing your best may result in loss of money, less of rapport or loss of business. In your job, it results in life loss.
For that reason, any time you don’t bring your best to the table, you’re unfit to serve.
To Alton Sterling—I blame you for not thinking of those who loved you. You had a child, a son. You should have known to stop resisting, inform the officers you had a firearm in your pocket, and not move a muscle. Was it selfish pride? Was it your interpretation of justice? Now, through no fault of his own, your son is destined to continue on through the rest of this world without his father.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. But that doesn’t mean the amount of blame is equal.
Was Alton Sterling’s crime of resisting arrest worthy of a death sentence? Absolutely not. Could his death have been avoided? Certainly. Yes, multiple parties share fault for the course of events in Baton Rouge.
However, none deserve a larger share than Alton Sterling himself.
If the officers are correct in their account of Sterling reaching for the gun in his pocket, there’s no one to blame but himself. Trying to pull a gun on police officers, even if you feel you are being mistreated, is indefensible.
If the officers are incorrect in their account of Sterling reaching for the gun in his pocket, though the officers would have made a fatal mistake, Sterling undeniably refused to cooperate. In cell phone videos recorded by bystanders, he can be seen reaching his right arm to his pocket that contained a gun.
If the officers were unashamed bigots looking for the slightest excuse to murder African-Americans on sight, they deserve all the hate they’ve received, criminal proceedings and appropriate punishment.
But after watching the video, reviewing the evidence, and spending much time in thought on the subject, the answer seems clear to me.
I find it far more likely that a registered sex offender with a lengthy criminal record who threatened a man with a gun just hours before his death became overly aggressive with police when confronted, and that his own actions were the single greatest factor in his untimely death.
Jonathan Deemer is a sophomore studying biomedical science.