BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Mourners gather Friday to pay their last respects to a 37-year-old black man shot and killed in an encounter with two white police officers in Louisiana, a killing that helped fuel protests nationwide over the treatment of African-Americans by police.
Alton Sterling was shot July 5 outside a Baton Rouge convenience store in an encounter with police that was caught on video. Captured by at least two cellphone cameras, the shocking recordings were broadcast worldwide.
The death was the start of a tumultuous week in American race relations. A day after Sterling’s death, Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Minnesota during a traffic stop with his girlfriend streaming the aftermath of the black man’s death live in Facebook. On July 7, as people outraged by police killings took to the street in Dallas, an African-American man opened fired, killing five police officers there.
Protests over police treatment of blacks drew thousands in Baton Rouge, and the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Sterling’s shooting. His family has called for the officers to be prosecuted. Police said in a search warrant that officers saw the “butt of a gun” in Sterling’s pocket during the arrest and that he tried to reach for it during the altercation.
Sterling leaves behind five children. His 15-year-old son, Cameron Sterling, spoke to reporters briefly this week for the first time, telling people his father was a good man while calling for protesters to be peaceful. Authorities arrested about 200 people in Baton Rouge during the protests through last weekend, with demonstrators accusing the police of heavy-handed tactics.
“I feel that people in general, no matter what their race is, should come together as one united family,” Cameron Sterling told reporters Wednesday outside the store where his father died. The teen remained composed as he spoke. The previous week, he broke down in sobs and had to be led away as his mother talked in front of television cameras about the death.
During an interview with The Associated Press last week, Cameron Sterling’s mother, Quinyetta McMillon, spoke fondly of the boy’s father, recalling his trepidation watching his son take his first steps. She called them the “Doublemint twins” because they both liked snacks.
A public viewing was scheduled between 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. CDT at Southern University in Baton Rouge followed later in the day by a funeral service. The Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond were scheduled to speak at Sterling’s service set to follow at 11 a.m. CDT.