This won’t be fun to write.
It’s no fun to take the side of letting the facts direct our opinions. You know what’s fun? It’s fun to fit every square peg of a news story into our round-hole point of view. To know what happened without having to really know.
So you and I watch the 48-second cellphone video of two Baton Rouge, La., police officers wrestling a large black man Tuesday to the pavement outside a convenience store. Our view is partly obscured, but this doesn’t look good.
One officer hollers, “Don’t move” at the suspect, 37-year-old Alton Sterling. Then, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” Then, “You (expletive) move, I swear to God …”
Then a gunshot, followed by at least four more as the cellphone camera veers away. Sterling was dead, not far from the stand where he sold CDs outside the Triple S Food Mart.
That’s what we’ve seen with our own eyes.
First, if you came here for a defense of those two officers, sorry. I don’t know enough to say.
I missed class the day we decided not knowing – and not caring that we didn’t know – was a virtue.
To be clear, that video looks very bad for those officers. But ask the question in reverse: Is there anything, known or unknown, that would lead you to believe that this was a justified shooting?
Do we know who precipitated the officer-suspect physical confrontation? What was said between them? What led the officers to take the guy down? What the suspect did or didn’t do as he struggled on the ground? Which officer shot him? What those officers claim to have seen?
I’d rather reserve my genuine outrage for when I have more answers.
Those two white officers could be the kleagle and vice kleagle of the local klavern. Or, they could be two officers summoned to investigate an anonymous 911 report of a man in a red shirt who pointed a gun at someone else.
The officers “were really aggressive with him from the start,” said shop owner Abdullah Muflahi, who knew Sterling and let him sell his CDs outside. Muflahi also said he saw police take a gun from Sterling’s pocket after the shooting.
Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, the officers, are on administrative leave. The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division quickly took command of the investigation, which also will include the U.S. attorney’s office in Baton Rouge, the FBI and state police, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
These are good things. No one wishes for a shooting like this, but these things sometimes turn out differently than we might have expected.
Protesters outside the Triple S Food Mart reminded me of this. Someone tried to rally the troops with “Hands up, don’t shoot!” That connected the Sterling death at least spiritually to that of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed in August 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
Ultimately, the Justice Department took over the Ferguson case and cleared former Officer Darren Wilson, basically validating his account of the shooting, based on physical evidence.
Justice investigators found no evidence Brown’s hands were raised. They did determine he precipitated his own shooting by attacking Wilson and reaching for the officer’s weapon.
We learned this in March 2015, after state prosecutors presented similar findings to a grand jury, which declined to indict Wilson. It was roughly seven months after some were certain an unarmed black teen had been shot for no reason.
That’s not to say the facts will go the officers’ way in Baton Rouge. We will know more soon enough, and that’s surely superior to guessing now.