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The police shooting death of a black man captured on video as officers wrestled with him outside a convenience store fueled anger and protests in a Baton Rouge community, where officials and family members of the slain man called for a federal investigation on Wednesday.
Speakers at a news conference said they want answers to why 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot and killed outside a convenience store where he was selling CDs.
“Mr. Sterling was not reaching for a weapon, he looks like a man that was actually fighting for his life,” said state Rep. Edmond Jordan, an attorney for Sterling’s family.
Jordan said he and the family are calling on Baton Rouge police to turn the investigation over to state police.
Authorities have not released the race of the two officers, who have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard department policy.
The mother of Sterling’s son, Quinyetta McMillon, trembled as she read a prepared statement at the gathering outside city hall, where a few dozen protesters and community leaders gather.
Her son, Cameron, who is 15, broke down in tears and sobbed as he was led away as his mother spoke.
She described Sterling as “a man who simply tried to earn a living to take care of his children.”
“The individuals involved in his murder took away a man with children who depended upon their daddy on a daily basis”
Jordan said police confiscated the video surveillance system from the store, but he said the store owner is confident the video shows the entire confrontation and shooting. Meanwhile, he said the video that someone outside the store made on a cellphone and posted online “certainly speaks for itself.”
“It’s a horrible thing, it’s a horrible thing to happened to him,” said Sterling’s aunt, Sandra Sterling. “He didn’t deserve that.”
Police say they were called to the store Tuesday after an anonymous caller said Sterling had threatened someone with a gun.
The video that purported to show the killing further fueled public anger about the shooting on Tuesday, prompting hundreds to protest. The protest lasted into the night.
In the video, which appears to be shot from inside a nearby parked car, one of two police officers outside the store can be seen tackling a man in a red shirt and wrestling him to the ground. Then the other officer helps him hold the man down.
At one point someone can be heard saying, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” and then one officer on top of the man can be seen pulling his weapon from his holster. After some shouting, what sounds like a gunshot can be heard and the camera pulls away. Then another four shots can be heard. At one point, a person in the vehicle asks “They shot him?” as a woman can be heard crying.
The Associated Press has not been able to authenticate the video. But the appearance of the store in the video matches the front of convenience store where the shooting occurred. The man being subdued by police was wearing a red shirt, matching the description given earlier by police.
Sandra Sterling said the video “made us realize what really happened. It shed light on everything we didn’t know.”
At the Wednesday news conference, the head of the NAACP in Baton Rouge called for the police chief to be fired.
“What I’m calling for today is that the chief law enforcement officer to fire the police chief,” Michael McClanahan said. “He must step down. We cannot have anybody who allows this type of action to take place.”
State Rep. Denise Marcelle of Baton Rouge, who has been at the forefront of the protests, said she has talked to the police chief. She said the chief told her that body cameras fell off both officers during their “tussle” with Sterling. But Marcelle said she saw no evidence of that on the video.
“The footage that we have that’s good is from the store. Why haven’t they released that video? I don’t understand that.”
By dawn Wednesday, protesters and friends had created a makeshift memorial to Sterling on the white folding tables and fold out chair he had used to sell homemade music compilations on CD’s.
Arthur Baines came by to pay his respects. “He never bothered nobody. He was just trying to make an honest dollar,” Baines said. He said he thought Sterling was out late on July 4th because more people were out on the holiday. “That’s really how he made all of his money,”
Mufleh Alatiyat, a 25-year old employee of the store described Sterling as generous and said he often gave away CDs or petty cash or bought food or drink for some people.
“He was a very nice guy,” he said. “He helped a lot of people.”