It’s a sad reality of the news business than stoking anger sells. That’s why Shaun King of the New York Daily News is trying to make Alton Sterling some bizarre cross between JFK and hoodlum Micheal Brown, saying “we’ll all know where we were” when he was shot, and why Goldie Taylor (among others) is selling the fiction that Sterling was “shot down while selling CDs.”
Here’s what really happened, based upon what we actually know.
- Police were called to a Baton Rouge (Louisiana) convenience store on a “man with a gun” call.
- Officers made contact with Alton Sterling at the convenience store because he matched the description provided by the caller.
- Officers had a conversation that led to a confrontation with Alton Sterling. We do not know the details of this conversation.
- A person in a nearby car began (badly) recording with a low-quality cell phone camera just as officers stepped back and fired a taser at Alston Sterling.
- You can distinctly hear the crackle of the X26 taser. It fires a second time. Alton Sterling is unmoved by either taser attempt.
- Up until this point, Sterling has been passively non-compliant, at least while on camera.
- An officer tackles Alton Sterling, and once Sterling is on the ground he starts actively resisting officers.
- The officer who fired the taser is able to secure Sterling’s left arm with great difficulty, and pins it under his legs.
- The other officer, the one who tackled Sterling, is attempting to control Sterling’s right arm, but it is out of camera view behind the bumper of the car.
- The officer who tackled Alston Sterling yells “He’s got a gun!” Sterling is seen still actively resisting. We still cannot see Alton Sterling’s right arm as the tackling officer fights to control him.
- The officer who had twice tasered Sterling draws his handgun to retention. He presumably issues the warning to Alton Sterling face to face: “Hey bra! You f*cking move, I swear to God.”
- Two shots are fired, and the cell phone video loses focus and goes back inside the car.
- Several other shots are heard.
These are the only real facts that we know.
Claims that Alton Sterling was “killed for selling CDs” is incredibly and intentionally dishonest, and frankly, those making such claims would be immediately fired if they worked for actual news organizations that cared about maintaining integrity to even the slightest degree.
Alton Sterling was shot because officers attempted to take him into custody, he refused to comply, and then resisted officers, while armed. Whether or not all the shots fired will be deemed legally justified is a matter for the U.S. Justice Department, which has been asked to handle the investigation.
We simply don’t have enough evidence at this time to know whether the officers were justified in firing any shots at Alton Sterling, and if they were justified in shooting, if all of the shots fired were justified (it’s not an “all or nothing” prospect; every bullet fired must be justified).
Neither eyewitnesses nor the video being circulated can tell us the single most important detail: where was Alton Sterling’s right hand, and was he attempting to access the handgun recovered from his right front pocket? It is this key detail that will determine whether officers were justified in shooting Alton Sterling, or if they over-reacted and committed a crime.
But that simple reality doesn’t sell papers or drawn in television viewers.
Instead of having trained use-of-force experts attempt to make sense of the relevant details, newspaper and networks and cable news are having deeply ignorant and biased journalists fabricate a narrative product that is nor more truthful than fiction movies “inspired by real events” in Hollywood. We’re not witnessing the chronicling of a news event as facts can be verified, but the rapid and intentional fabrication of a victimhood narrative with only the loosest association to the the truth, just as we did in the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
If you recall, the early reports from the Brown case were that Michael Brown was running away when he was coldly shot down from behind by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, for no reason at all. After the dust had settled and facts had been collected, we discovered that Brown attacked the officer in his vehicle, attempted to take the officer’s gun, and was finally shot and killed at point-blank range as he charged the officer a second time.
I’m not pretending to know all of what happened in Baton Rouge, but I’m very clear on publishing both what my trained eye can discern, and what I don’t know.
Others, like Shaun King and Goldie Taylor, are making up scenarios on the fly, and some such as MSNBC’s Erik Ortiz, are reporting “facts” that clearly have no basis in reality, like Ortiz’s claim that one of the officers put a gun to “the back of the man’s head or neck,” when the officer is clearly seen holding the handgun tight in against his body per his weapon retention training.
These and others are, quite literally, manufacturing false news.
It’s a damn shame that so many journalists and pundits lack the integrity to stick with what they really know, and instead feel compelled to lie to their readers in order to profit from Alton Sterling’s death.