Alton Sterling Videos Reveal Exactly What Happened

by Chris Tognotti

Have you heard the name Alton Sterling yet? The latest in a long line of fatal police shooting victims, Sterling, who was black, was slain by a white officer Tuesday in an encounter that was captured on video. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, officers involved reportedly said that they felt deadly force was justified in the altercation. You only need to see it to understand why it's sparked such an uproar. But maybe you don't want to watch it, grisly and harrowing as it is, but still want to know what's on the Alton Sterling video.

Although now, it's not just the Alton Sterling video, but videos, plural. On Wednesday, after Sterling's death had already seized the national consciousness, a second video of the shooting was revealed, and it's much clearer (and undeniably more graphic and stomach-turning) than the first. While the original video was shot from within a car close to Sterling and the officers, and the camera turns away at the moment of the gunfire, this new angle is mere feet away from the altercation, and little is left to the imagination.

You won't have to worry about seeing either of them here — that's the whole point of this, to provide context and clarity about what happened without bombarding you with violent, traumatic imagery. But it must be said that both are upsetting in the extreme, in the event you do decide to watch.

In the first video (which again, was seemingly filmed from the passenger-side of a nearby parked car), you can hear a voice (ostensibly one of the two officers, who've since been identified as Howie Lake and Blaine Salamoni) yell "Get on the ground!" At this point, the camera swivels up to show one of the officers grab at Sterling and pull him to the ground, sliding his body over the hood of a car in the process. The other officer then appears to pin Sterling's upper-half to the ground, placing his arms around Sterling's neck or chest area.

At this point, despite Sterling sometimes jerking his head up, things seem controlled for a moment. Then, one of the officers yells "He's got a gun!" The audio on the video is sometimes hard to make out, but that much, at least, is clear. The officer pinning Sterling's upper body then pulls a gun, yells something at (you can clearly make out an "I swear to God!"), and unloads two shots. The camera jerks away at this point, as the man and woman in the car react with horror, and three more shots can be heard a few seconds later.

The second video, released by The Daily Beast on Wednesday, is far more revealing. It starts later in the interaction, when Sterling is already on the ground with the two officers on top of him. One of them can be heard yelling, more clearly this time — "Hey bro, If you f**king move, I swear to God!" Seconds later, the officer fires three shots, followed by another yell: "Get on the ground!"

The camera swivels away after the first shot, and turns back seconds later to show one officer on the ground next to Sterling. The officer's gun is drawn, and is aiming at Sterling, who is lying prone with his arms and legs out, a large, very visible pool of blood flowing from the center of his chest. There were five shots in all, and it's not clear which officer fired or whether both of them did. At the very end of the video, one of the officers quickly reaches into Sterling's pocket and pulls something out. While it does resemble a gun — which would make sense, given the officer's earlier shouting — the video isn't as clear as it could be. If it was a gun, however, this would suggest that Sterling never removed it from his pocket.

So far, those are the only two angles that the public has seen on the shooting. But rest assured you're going to hear and see more about Sterling and his death — shootings like these have recently become flashpoints in a broader civil rights struggle, for criminal justice reform, against police brutality, and for the value of black lives. Protesters have already begun turning out to demonstrate over Sterling's killing, and the U.S. Justice Department has launched an investigation.