February 2019

Legal Action Without Protest?

Maybe, through protest, we can create a government that acts on its own for justice. Maybe, through protest, we can make protest obsolete. Maybe.

by Nickela Washington

Baton Rouge has been a hotbed of protest since 2016, when Alton Sterling was killed by police. Many of us took to the streets to demand justice for Sterling and have stepped up time and again since then. In fact, we’ve seen protests all around the United States and many families still don’t have justice. People protest to push the government to treat us equally, but they too often seem unwilling to act to better our community. Because the government is still unresponsive, many activists and community members wonder if we really need to protest in order to have the government to make changes. Though it is not a perfect tool, protests are still the best instrument we have to fight for change.

The biggest protest so far here in Baton Rouge has been the protest for Alton Sterling. Many were protesting for justice and were hurt by the event. While many emotional and upset people were protesting, they were being arrested for voicing their opinion. According to Time Magazine, 120 people were arrested during the protest and all they were asking for was justice and change. We shouldn’t have to protest for justice, but protesting is the only way we can create change for our communities.

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge police officers arrest Ieshia Evans at one of the protests following the killing of Alton Sterling. Courtesy Time Magazine.

We still don’t have justice for Alton Sterling. Many stopped protesting and many forgot about the situation. His family sued the Baton Rouge Police Department for killing him, but the settlement in that case did not change anything. The officers involved in the shooting were placed on paid leave instead of being charged or fired. No matter how hard and how much the community tried to protest for change the government never acknowledged nor helped make the city of Baton Rouge become at peace. They failed to make the community whole. Instead, they made the protesters look like the bad guys as they were being arrested, but all they were trying to do was influence the government to make Baton Rouge a better and safe community.

The body camera footage of Alton Sterling was finally released in 2018. On the video, we can hear all of the threats the officers made. One of them, Officer Blane Salamoni, threatened Sterling almost instantly, shouting “Don’t f—— move or I’ll shoot your f—— a–” while they were detaining him. Sterling was not being violent towards the officers. We have body camera footage of police misconduct like this from across the country. Remember when the Baltimore police officer planted drugs in the soup can on camera? Even when these cameras are misused or abused, as they were in the soup can case, they still substantiate what African Americans have said for years—that police officers mistreat members of our community.

Even with this video evidence, officers are rarely charged with abusing their power. Instead, just like in Chicago, police officers hide evidence and cover up these crimes for one another. And they walk free, time and again. This is because the justice system is rigged in favor of cops, especially white cops, against African Americans. Black people are most likely to be charged for something instead of the officers only because of their skin color. This happens all over the United States.

Years later there is still no justice later for Alton Sterling. The officer that shot Sterling was fired from his job, but both men involved in the shooting were found not guilty of the crime they committed even when there was proof of the things they did to Sterling. Why did the city of Baton Rouge take almost two years to say that the officers were found not guilty? Why didn’t the government address the problem instantly? The unfortunate answer is that in the world and country we live in you can be beaten or killed just because of your skin color. Your skin color determines a lot here in the United States.

We have had dozens of protests and collective actions since Sterling’s killing by police. For example, teachers recently stepped up to protest a plan to give ExxonMobil, which owns a refinery in the city, more tax breaks at the expense of our schools. The teachers’ union here voted overwhelmingly to protest the plan, and this threat of protest eventually forced ExxonMobil to back down. This is a major step in the right direction. Officials and wealthy residents have long tried to steal resources from our city’s highly segregated school system. If anything, we need more of this organizing and protesting here in Baton Rouge.

EBR teachers
Members of the East Baton Rouge teachers union demand an end to corporate tax exemptions at a November 2018 school board meeting. Courtesy of The Advocate.

So can our community have a major shift without protesting? Well for now protesting is the only way our community can ask for a change. Many take their time out to help try make our community a better and safer place to live in. Protests happen all over the United States and most of the time many do not get justice for a crime that has been committed or a change in their community. Maybe in the future major reforms will occur without protesting and communities will change for the better. Maybe, through protest, we can create a government that acts on its own for justice. Maybe, through protest, we can make protest obsolete. Maybe.

Nickela imageNickela Washington is a honor roll student who always puts her education first. In the fifth grade, Nickela wrote an essay and it was featured in the school’s newsletter. She is also a young entrepreneur and is the CEO of “ Nickela’s Creations,” which offers specialty crafts. Nickela is a very intelligent young woman who is all about learning new things. 

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Further Reading

Rishi Iyengar, “Everyone Is Talking About This Photo From the Protests in Baton Rouge,” Time Magazine, July 11, 2016, http://time.com/4400563/baton-rouge-protests-alton-sterling-woman-arrest-photo-iconic-reuters-jonathan-bachman/

“Update awaited in Alton Sterling’s 2016 shooting death as family meets with investigators,” Nola.com, March 27, 2018, https://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2018/03/update_awaited_in_alton_sterli.html

Nicole Chavez, “Body camera shows officer threatened to shoot Alton Sterling within seconds,” CNN, March 31, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/31/us/alton-sterling-police-videos-hearings/index.html

Julia O’Donoghue, “Alton Sterling family sues Baton Rouge, police officers involved in shooting,” June 27, 2017, Nola.comhttps://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/06/alton_sterling_civil_lawsuit.html

Charles Lussier, “Hundreds of Baton Rouge school workers vote for walkout; here’s why, when, what to know”, October 23, 2018 https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_05a9658e-d6fb-11e8-897a-bb42d24adf90.html

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