‘Noth­ing’s changed’: Po­lice shoot­ing hangs over neigh­bor­hood

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A year ago, Ab­dul­lah Mu­flahi rushed out­side his con­ve­nience store, whipped out his cell­phone and be­gan record­ing mo­ments be­fore a white po­lice of­fi­cer shot and killed a black man in the park­ing lot. Mu­flahi’s video fu­eled nightly protests that turned his friend, 37year-old Al­ton Ster­ling, into an­other sym­bol of ou­trage over deadly po­lice shoot­ings. The July 5 shoot­ing also trans­formed Mu­flahi’s store into a hub for pro­test­ers and a can­vas for their grief and anger.

Vis­i­tors rou­tinely stop by the Triple S Food Mart to photograph an iconic mu­ral of Ster­ling’s smil­ing face on its alu­minum sid­ing. A makeshift memo­rial - now re­duced to soggy stuffed an­i­mals and with­ered flow­ers - still stands on the ta­ble where Ster­ling once sold home­made CDs out­side. Lit­tle has changed in this pover­tys­tricken neigh­bor­hood since the shoot­ing a frus­trat­ing fact of life for res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers who had hoped a na­tional spot­light on their prob­lems could erode racial di­vi­sions and im­prove po­lice re­la­tions in Louisiana’s cap­i­tal.

“It’s over­looked. It’s not much that the city does around here,” Mu­flahi said. “There are things that the city could fix and help make it bet­ter, but no­body looks at it like that.” Mu­flahi, a 29-year-old na­tive of Ye­men, mourns Ster­ling as the friend who in­tro­duced him­self as “Big Boy” and wel­comed him af­ter he moved here from Detroit and bought his store in 2010. “He’s the one who ac­tu­ally showed me around and looked out for me,” Mu­flahi said.

The shoot­ing strength­ened Mu­flahi’s bond with neigh­bors who protested out­side the store af­ter Ster­ling’s death. But Mu­flahi said store rev­enue also plum­meted and has been slow to re­bound. “A lot of peo­ple were scared to come up here,” he said. “A lot of my reg­u­lars, the older peo­ple, I haven’t seen them.” A fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion found the con­fronta­tion with the two white of­fi­cers, Blane Sala­m­oni and Howie Lake II, lasted less than 90 sec­onds.

The of­fi­cers ap­proached Ster­ling about a call that a black man sell­ing CDs had threat­ened some­one with a gun. They strug­gled with Ster­ling af­ter he didn’t com­ply with com­mands to put his hands on the hood of a car, then wres­tled him down af­ter Lake shocked him with a Taser, fed­eral au­thor­i­ties said. In­ves­ti­ga­tors found that Sala­m­oni shot Ster­ling three times af­ter say­ing Ster­ling was reach­ing for a gun in his pocket, and fired three more shots into Ster­ling’s back when he be­gan to sit up. A loaded re­volver was re­cov­ered from Ster­ling’s pocket.

In May, the Jus­tice De­part­ment an­nounced it will not file crim­i­nal charges against ei­ther of­fi­cer. Louisiana’s at­tor­ney gen­eral is re­view­ing whether any state charges are war­ranted. The of­fi­cers re­main on paid leave. Donna Har­ris, a 41-year-old nurse, lives nearby and joined the protests. A year later, she’s still wait­ing for some rea­son to be op­ti­mistic. “Noth­ing got bet­ter. Noth­ing changed,” she said. “They haven’t even given us jus­tice for Al­ton.”

State Rep. Ted James, a Ba­ton Rouge Demo­crat and na­tive of the area, said he sees some progress. But he also sees en­dur­ing racial di­vi­sions and ac­knowl­edges that pre­dom­i­nantly black north Ba­ton Rouge where Ster­ling lived and died - still suf­fers from a long­stand­ing “lack of in­vest­ment.” “That type of long-term change is go­ing to take time,” he said. “Things are hap­pen­ing. I rec­og­nize it’s not hap­pen­ing as fast as folks would like to see it.” At a salon across the street from the Triple S Food Mart, hair stylist Ron­nie Hor­ton said he be­lieves politi­cians have short­changed the neigh­bor­hood for years. “You go across on the other side of town, it’s beau­ti­ful,” he said. “It’s not up here.”— AP

BA­TON ROUGE: Ron­ald Smith gets on his bi­cy­cle af­ter stop­ping at the Triple S Food Mart, where Al­ton Ster­ling was shot by po­lice one year ago, in Ba­ton Rouge, La. —AP

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