The Photo Of Alton Sterling That Activists Want You To Share
Mass public outrage has arisen following the death of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man fatally shot by Baton Rouge police officers on Tuesday. As the case reaches national attention on Wednesday, activists are trying to control the media narrative surrounding Sterling. They want to make sure that this photo of Alton Sterling is the one which people share on social media. The picture shows Sterling with three of his five children. According to those who knew him, the picture shows the real Alton. “[Sterling] didn’t cause any harm to the community," Sterling's friend Darian Gardner told The Advocate. "He was nice. He wasn’t a bad guy. He was respectable.”
Officers were called to a Baton Rouge convenience store at around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning in response to an anonymous tip that a man selling CDs outside the store had a gun. Cellphone video from the scene shows two officers wrestling Sterling to the ground before one pulls his weapon. The Baton Rouge Police Department released a statement on Facebook confirming that Sterling was shot and killed, and that the two officers have been placed on administrative leave.
Sterling had a criminal history, according to state records, so there may be a mugshot released soon. The pattern of releasing unflattering pictures of a black shooting victim is recognizable from previous cases, such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. The trend attracted particular criticism after Brown's death, prompting the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown to show how media outlets and police create a disparaging image of victims. Activists are trying to get ahead of that with Sterling's death by disseminating an image of Sterling which will engender sympathy rather than fear.
Sterling may have had a criminal record, but relatives have pointed out how he was disadvantaged from an early age. “He had a hard life," said his cousin, Elliot Sterling. "He didn’t have no momma, no daddy. He wasn’t stable at all. He lived day to day based on what he made.” Sterling's family wants the public to know that he was a good person, and they don't believe the shooting was justified. "I really wanna know more about what happened, about the whole situation, because my brother didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve it at all,” said Sterling's sister, Mignon Chambers.
The images associated with Alton Sterling will paint a picture that will help define the public attitude toward him. According to his friends and family, showing Sterling with his loved ones is an accurate representation of who he was as a man, not how he died or the mistakes he made. Sterling's death could help spur significant social change, but first and foremost, he should be remembered as the kind, loving man his friends and family knew.