The East Baton Rouge Metro Council finally agreed on a settlement to be offered to the family of Alton Sterling who was killed by Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake in 2016. The council voted 7-4 on February 10 in favor of offering a $4.5 million settlement to the family of Alton Sterling, which filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and BRPD.
To say this decision is the end result for some modicum of justice in this case, is an understatement. In an Instagram statement about the resolution, Baton Rouge Mayor-President, Sharon Weston Broome said the following:
“I am pleased our metro council was able to find a consensus and approve an offer of settlement in the Alton Sterling civil case. After nearly five years, the people of Baton Rouge are finally one step closer to getting much needed closure in this traumatic episode in our history. Now we must continue the work of building a more fair and equitable community, where every citizen is treated justly, no matter their race or ethnicity.”
As a (very recent) former lifelong resident of Baton Rouge, I had a front-row view of just how polarizing the murder of Alton Sterling was on the community. Social justice advocates and civil rights attorneys screamed for accountability from former Baton Rouge police chief, Carl Dabadie that never came to fruition. Howie Lake, who was an active participant but not the triggerman, was temporarily suspended from his duties. Blane Salamoni, the profane and violent officer who pumped six shots into Alton Sterling’s body in the wee hours of July 5, 2016, was fired from the police force after BRPD’s first Black police chief, Murphy Paul, took office.
Both officers were investigated by the Trump administration’s Department of Justice for civil rights violations, and then on the state level for criminal charges, and were cleared of wrongdoing in both investigations. The wrongful death civil suit was previously an agenda item of the council and was delayed and excessively argued. Many white Baton Rougeans highlighted Sterling’s criminal record as justification for his execution. Multiple unfounded claims about the night of his shooting circulated the dark corners of the internet, creating a bias in the minds of half of the Baton Rouge community who felt Sterling’s family was not entitled to any form of justice.
Sterling’s aunt and primary childhood caregiver, Sandra Sterling, endured a stroke amid the years of back-and-forth tensions surrounding the case. Sterling’s son Cameron, who the nation watched crying for his slain father, was later brought up on charges of sex crimes involving a minor, in an incident that many used as a reason to discredit the pursuit of justice for Alton, who also served time for similar crimes.
The Sterling family was often vilified in the court of public opinion as dysfunctional and essentially labeled as a band of poverty-stricken thugs that cried foul when one of their own ended up a victim of police violence. The vitriol they received undoubtedly delayed the justice they acquired this week, as the whole point of those who were demonizing them was to take the focus off the crime committed by Salamoni and Lake.
Ultimately, the Sterling family is getting what they rightfully deserved. But as it is said in most social justice circles, the utmost measure of justice would be the victim not being killed at all and having the option to continue living and learning and making mistakes and seeking redemption.
Alton Sterling was wronged on July 5, 2016. He was the victim of an escalated situation that by all accounts should have not ended in his death. His family should not have had to wait for nearly five years for the city of Baton Rouge to offer them some respectable degree of resolve to this case, irrespective of who he was prior to the night his life was taken.
His killers are living free, and he is not. Somebody had to pay for that.
About the Author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be