Anita Chang Beattie and Nova Safo, AFP
WASHINGTON – Mourners gathered late Wednesday for a vigil to commemorate a black father of five shot to death by police in Louisiana, hours after federal civil rights investigators said they will probe the incident. Lighting candles just before dusk, a crowd of hundreds gathered outside the Baton Rouge convenience store where 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot dead by an officer while already pinned to the ground. Following the ceremony, people continued to gather at the Triple S Mart store, where a mural of Alton had already been painted on the side of the building, local newspaper The Advocate reported. Sterling’s death was captured on cell phone video, triggering protests in the city and outrage nationwide over the latest case of alleged police brutality against black suspects.
The shooting came on the eve of a closely watched trial in Baltimore for an officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a broken spine in the back of a police van. Sterling was fatally shot in the early hours of Tuesday after an anonymous caller told police they had been threatened by a man with a gun, according to the police. His family’s lawyer said Sterling was merely selling CDs outside a convenience store, with the permission of the shop’s owner. Officials appealed for calm and promised a transparent investigation.
Calling the video “disturbing,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said federal authorities will take over the investigation, led by the Department of Justice civil rights division. “I have very serious concerns,” Edwards told a news conference in Baton Rouge. “The video is disturbing to say the least.” Edwards said he spoke to the White House and planned to meet with faith-based community leaders to appeal for calm. Baton Rouge officials identified the officers involved as Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II. Both were placed on administrative leave, according to procedure, pending the results of the investigation.