BATON ROUGE (CN) – During a crowded vigil for Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old black man whose death at the hands of white police officers Tuesday morning outraged the nation, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards vowed to focus on the “training, re-training and supervision” of law enforcement officers in the state.
“I think we have a responsibility to come together and take an honest look at how we can do better,” Edwards told the crowd at the Living Faith Christina Church in Baton Rouge.
The Times-Picayune, citing church officials, estimated more than 2,500 were in attendance at the vigil.
“This is the only way we are going to come out of this tragedy better than we were before,” Edwards said.
Officers Blane Salamoni, 28, and Howie Lake, 28, arrived to the Triple S Food Mart just after midnight on Tuesday morning after a homeless man called 911 to report a man selling CDs there had brandished a gun, according to police.
Police say a scuffle ensued, and Sterling, who regularly sold homemade music cds and dvds outside the store, was shot to death.
Video footage appeared to show Sterling pinned to the parking lot beneath two officers when one of the officers screamed “gun,” and the other pulled his service revolver, firing several bullets into Sterling’s chest.
A second video, shot by Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the convenience store, surfaced Wednesday and appears to confirm Sterling was not holding a gun in his hand when he got into an altercation with officers.
Muflahi’s video shows one of the officers taking what appears to a gun from Sterling’s pocket an instant before the fatal shots were fired, and Sterling writhing on the ground after he was shot, a pool of blood accumulating on his chest.
For the past several nights, demonstrators have gathered at the Triple S Food Mart where Sterling died.
Thursday night’s memorial was an opportunity for members of the community to come together and a series of prayers were led by area pastors.
At the vigil Governor Edwards praised the peaceful demonstrations that have followed the fatal shooting.
“Your strength is showing through not only to Baton Rouge but to the nation,” he told the predominately black crowd Thursday.
Edwards, a Democrat who took office in January, has spent the past several days meeting with faith-based and community leaders, as well as the investigators who will determine whether the police responsible for Sterling’s’ death should face charges.
“We still have a long way to go. I understand that, but I want you to know how proud I am to be your governor,” Edwards said. “We’re demonstrating to people all over the world just how good the people of Louisiana can be.”
Edwards said the Justice Department will look into the shooting to determine whether civil rights violations were at play in Sterling’s death, and also whether there were violations of state or federal law, according to a spokesman.
Richard Carbo said Thursday that the U.S. attorney’s office in Baton Rouge is conducting “all aspects of the investigation.
Carbo said if the U.S. attorney’s office finds any violation of state laws and believes the officers should be charged with battery, assault or murder, it will refer that back to the local district attorney for prosecution.
“They won’t prosecute it,” he said, “but they’ll do the investigating side of it.”
Sterling, who as a convicted felon was not able to legally carry a gun, had purchased it just hours before his death, according to the N.Y. Daily News.
Sterling purchased the gun on Monday after hearing that another man selling CDs on the local streets was robbed, according to the Daily News account.
Sterling died around 12:30 a.m. the next day.
Louisiana had the second-highest gun deaths in the nation per capita in 2013, according to the Violence Policy Center, a non-profit that advocates against gun violence.
The center found that states with high gun ownership and lax gun laws had more gun deaths. Louisiana is one exception, however, having the lowest percentage of household gun ownership 45.6 percent among the five states with highest rate of gun deaths.
On Wednesday, as public outrage over Sterling’s death grew, video footage of a police shooting of a black motorist, 32-year-old Philando Castile in Minnesota fanned the flames of an already raging fire of social outrage over police violence.
President Obama, addressing the events from Warsaw where he had traveled for a NATO event, called the shooting deaths “heinous.”
Obama said he could not comment on the specific facts of the shootings because both are under investigation, but he spoke of the failing of the administration of justice when it comes to race.
“These are not isolated incidents,” Obama said. “They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”
“This is not just a black issue. It’s not just a Hispanic issue,” the president said. “This is an American issue that we should all care about, all fair-minded people should be concerned.”
He went on to praise the “vast majority” of police officers for doing “a dangerous job” well, and said there’s no contradiction between supporting police officers and calling out systemic biases across the criminal justice system.
“When people say ‘black lives matter,’ that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter, it just means all lives matter — but right now the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents,” the president said.
Obama continued later, “This isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives. This is recognizing that there is a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens. And we should care about that. And we can’t dismiss it.
“We can’t dismiss it,” he repeated.
A black female police officer in suburban Cleveland is getting a lot of attention after posting a video on Facebook with her reaction to Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of a black man in Louisiana, according to the Associated Press.
Nakia Jones says she was so upset after watching the video-recorded killing in Baton Rouge that she wanted to quit the police force in Warrensville Heights.
She says she became a police officer to make a difference in people’s lives and that anyone who’s afraid of black people should take off their uniform.
Her impassioned reaction has been watched more than 3 million times since it was posted to her Facebook page Wednesday.
She says white officers who are racist have no business working in a black community.
According to research from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a non-profit in Washington that studies police officer fatalities, firearm related deaths to police officers rose nationally by 22 percent between 2015 and 2016. Louisiana has the second highest police officer mortality rate, after Texas, according to the center’s data.
Members of the Living Faith Christian Center congregation sing a hymn at a prayer vigil for Alton Sterling, who was shot by Baton Rouge police in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, July 7, 2016. Sterling, 37, was shot and killed outside the convenience store, where he was selling CDs. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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