Alton Sterling, Black father of five, killed for selling CDs

Alton Sterling, 37, was killed by cops for selling CDs outside a store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

He joins the seemingly endless list of Black people slain by cops and mourned by their neighbors, families and friends. The pain of his oldest son and the boy’s aunt was witnessed last night by millions on national television. The boy wept uncontrollably. Tears streamed down his aunt’s face.

Sterling sold CDs because he had a “record” that prevented him from getting a job on the books. When he was still a teenager himself he was jailed for having sex with another teenager.

He was selling the CDs when the cops got there. They tased him and as some horrific videos plainly show they held him down on the ground and shot him in the back and the chest until he died.

A petition drafted by MoveOn is circulating across the nation. Please sign it and circulate it.

The FBI and the Justice Department are investigating the murder because local prosecutors almost never bring charges against cops who, like the ones who murdered Sterling, have no respect  for the lives of Black people.

With a story like this it can be difficult to bring together in speedy and accurate fashion a picture of the life of Alton Sterling, the human being, who meant so much to his family and his community.

We know that he was a well liked person in his community and that the owner of the store in front of which Alton did his business thought he was a great guy.

One important thing we must realize in all these killings by cops is that “prior criminal history” is really entirely irrelevant..

Selling CDs in the parking lot may be illegal but since when does that warrant the death penalty?

It wasn’t legal for Eric Garner to sell loose cigarettes on the streets in Staten Island. But he got the death penalty too.

It’s not legal to drive around with a malfunctioning tail light but if you are Black that apparently has been cause enough for the death penalty too – execution carried out by a cop who thought nothing about shooting someone to death in broad daylight with no respect for lives or law.

For hundreds of years in America Blacks have gotten the death penalty on the spot, without any trial. First, it could happen just for displeasing the master or by trying to escape slavery via the Underground Railroad. Later you could be lynched for stealing a bit of food or just for looking at someone the wrong way.

Later still you could be executed by a cop if you tried to vote or if you demonstrated  for the right to do so.

Today it can be selling CD’s, selling loosies, violating minor traffic laws or, as in the case of Tamir Rice, a Black child, you can get the death penalty for playing in the park with a toy.

Black parents in America today almost all, at some point, sit down with their children and explain to them how they must behave in order to avoid the possibility of serious harm or even death at the hands of law enforcement. This is all part of an unacceptable horror story.

Reasonable people can understand that a society that calls itself civilized cannot allow this to continue.

The police who committed this crime must be brought to justice. Everyone in America should be signing the petition above. There must be justice for Alton Sterling if there is to be any chance of restoring trust between the police and the communities they are there to serve. Everyone in America has a stake in keeping up the pressure for justice because without justice there will never be peace.

Photo: Protesters at the store where Alton was shot and killed.  |  Gerald Herbert/AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.