Outside the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Alton Sterling was slain by the police a week ago, the community gathered together for a seventh consecutive night.
On this balmy evening, Pastor Evonne Dunn of Spirit of Truth International Ministries, organized a vigil and invited heads of various churches to join her in leading the prayers and songs. The crowd of concerned and outraged citizens also included Sandra Sterling, aunt of Alton Sterling; the family’s lawyer Edmond Jordan; and C. Denise Marcelle, the Louisiana state representative for the local district. Sandra Sterling has asked the community to pray for justice and peace, in response to an inquiry about specific prayer requests for her late nephew’s family.
The preachers present at the vigil testify about a God who is the alpha and the omega—an omnipotent force who guarantees that good conquers evil, justice is served, peace prevails and the wounded and sick are healed. In the message and the moment, there is space to weep and wail, and also give praise and honor to a higher power.
Not so long ago, it was the prayers, the peaceful protests, the leaders and a dream that led to victory in the Civil Rights Movement. With the election of a Black president, it appeared Black Americans had reached the pinnacle of power and equal opportunity.
According to The Guardian’s report, "The Counted," Alton Sterling became the 135th Black person killed by the police in 2016, followed by Philando Castile, less than 24 hours later. Also, according to The Guardian, on average, about two Black people are killed each week by police, almost the same rate of Black people lynched in America decades ago. Numerous fatalities have resulted from minor infractions or misconstrued behavior—selling CDs outside of a convenience store, being pulled over for a busted taillight, playing with a toy gun.
With the immediacy of social media, such graphic killings of Black people are on massive public display, to be replayed repeatedly—accessible anytime online. It has become so commonplace that it is easy for one’s senses to become numb to the notion of innocent and unarmed people of color being killed by individuals who have been entrusted to protect and serve. This modern-day horror and injustice, with seemingly no end in sight, is being positioned as a new norm in America.
“I think the president should call for a national day of prayer, because it is bigger than Baton Rouge. It really saddens me that this continues to happen in 2016,” said State Rep. Denise Marcelle. “We have to pray for unity, for strength. There is a lot of hurt. What I’ve heard on the streets of Baton Rouge is that they’re ready to do whatever they need to do in order to bring some attention to this matter. I just don’t want to see any more bloodshed,” she added.
Attorney Edmond Jordan, who has practiced law for nearly two decades and is also a Louisiana state representative for District 29, is preparing for the legal battle ahead.
“What justice looks like to me is when we can have a society, where our police officers serve us like they protect and serve the rest of America,” said Jordan. “Specifically, this is about Alton, but this is a much greater picture than that. Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. And with the situation of Rice and Garner we had video, just like we had video now. And still the cops went free. So, we want a fair and impartial hearing. And, we want a jury to bring down the verdict on these two officers…hear all the evidence and move forward.”
And how do we take the steps to overcome injustice? Jordan offers the following calls to action for the community:
- Protest peacefully, because we want to protect the name of Alton, and others who were killed.
- Don’t be complacent. Because what happens? Trayvon Martin happens, and then everything subsides and then we forget about it and we go back to our normal lives. And then Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile. We can no longer be complacent, because if we are my fear is that there is more to come. We need to come together.
- Call your congress person, call your legislature, call your senators and let them know we cannot forget about this. We need to have some true, criminal justice reform that brings an end to this. If we can curb this, and save life by doing true reform, that’s what justice looks like.
Special thanks to Reginald Flood, community advocate, and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC).
Mable Ivory is a social entrepreneur, community advocate, writer, marketing maven and real estate matchmaker.