Alton Sterling’s frustrated family members and their supporters confronted Baton Rouge officials this week, demanding an update in the nearly 3-month-old investigation into the 37-year-old black man’s death.
A police officer fatally shot Sterling near a convenience store where he sold CDs in July. The shooting sparked protests across the country against police misconduct.
On Monday, 50 demonstrators had gathered outside City Hall to march to the governor’s mansion when they realized they had an unexpected opportunity to speak with officials in the building.
“While we were outside, we found out a police reform meeting was being held inside,” Arthur Reed told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. Reed is founder of Stop The Killing, the group that released cell phone footage of Sterling’s death.
The protesters, including Reed and several members of Sterling’s family, decided to go inside.
“We’re concerned by a lack of answers in the shooting,” said Reed. “The family had a simple question: ‘What is the status of the investigation?’”
I think that his situation had its day, as far as national media attention. Alton has been overshadowed by other tragedies that have taken place, and he is not getting the attention he deserves. Arthur Reed, Stop The Killing
But because the Department of Justice is heading up the investigation, Sterling’s friends and family are having trouble getting their questions answered.
“They told us they don’t have any information,” Reed said of city officials. “They said they haven’t been briefed by the feds. We just feel this is taking an extremely long time. In most cases, family members would be briefed on how far along they are, and Alton’s family hasn’t heard anything.”
Sterling’s aunt, Sandra Sterling ― who says she raised him ― told attendees she was upset.
“I feel left out, because y’all are not calling me no more,” she said, according to The New Orleans Advocate. “So it makes me think that I don’t matter no more. So if I don’t matter no more, Alton don’t matter no more.”
Veda Sterling, another aunt, demanded action. “I’m not going to wait,” she said. “We’re tired of waiting.”
The day after Sterling’s death, the Justice Department announced it was opening a civil rights investigation into the shooting. At the time, officials from the office of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) assured the public the investigation would be transparent.
Less than two weeks later, Gavin Long, a former Marine from Missouri, opened fire in Baton Rouge, killing city police officers Montrell Jackson, 32, Matthew Gerald, 41, and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafola, 45. Long wounded three other officers.
The protests ceased, and national media attention drifted away from the tragedies in mid-August, when torrential rain in southeastern Louisiana caused massive flooding that inundated entire communities and claimed more than a dozen lives.
But since the flood waters have receded and more police killings around the country have set off protests, Sterling’s loved ones are growing angry that authorities aren’t being transparent about the investigation into his death.
“Y’all don’t care about Alton,” Sterling’s aunt, Lorna Sterling, shouted at Hillar Moore III, district attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish, during Monday’s meeting. “It’s just another dead black man on the street to y’all!”
Moore, who has recused himself from involvement in the case, did not respond to the criticism. He later told The Associated Press, “There is nothing that I can say from any standpoint to alleviate their emotions.”
The Justice Department hasn’t indicated how long it will take to complete its investigation. On Tuesday, DOJ spokesman David Jacobs replied to HuffPost’s inquiries with a copy of a July 6 press release:
“The FBI’s New Orleans Division, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana have opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Alton Sterling. The Justice Department will collect all available facts and evidence and conduct a fair, thorough and impartial investigation. As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.”
“That statement is still accurate,” Jacobs said.
Dwindling national media attention is making it easier for the federal government to drag its feet, said Reed, who says he’s working with local officials to organize a public meeting about Sterling’s case.
“I think that his situation had its day, as far as national media attention,” Reed told HuffPost. “Alton has been overshadowed by other tragedies that have taken place, and he is not getting the attention he deserves. There’s a lot of unanswered questions in this case and we want those answers. Everybody is tired of excuses. We need action.”