Rev. Raymond Jetson oversees his flock at Star Hill, a Baton Rouge church located four blocks from where Alton Sterling was gunned down.
Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man, was shot at point-blank range on Tuesday evening in front of the local Triple S Food Mart.
What led to his death is cause for debate, but here is what we know: Two officers claim they were summoned by an anonymous caller who said a man was pursuing him with a gun. When they reached the store, they found Sterling selling CDs. A struggle ensued and the officers pinned him to the ground. One of the officers discharged his weapon, firing several shots and fatally wounding Sterling.
“This man lost his life, needlessly,” Jetson told NewsOne. “Based on what I was able to see, there was absolutely no reason for a firearm to be discharged in that instance.”
As the Baton Rouge community grapples with the growing epidemic of police brutality around the nation, Jetson thinks it will be a long time before the city, one he was born and raised in, moves past what transpired on Tuesday.
“Healing can’t happen yet, because I don’t think the wound is fully formed,” Jetson said. “There will unfortunately be more pain in reckoning what has transpired here. You still have religious services, the realities for his family, the painful images of his son weeping uncontrollably.”
The image of Alton’s 15-year-old son, Cameron, breaking down as he stood next to his mother at a Wednesday press conference will be ingrained in our memory for ages. Jetson spoke with his own 18-year-old son about the harsh realities of being a Black man in America: “My son’s comment to me was, ‘Although I don’t always express it, I am not ignorant of my reality,’” he said.
Jetson is also the CEO of MetroMorphosis, an initiative to engage and empower Black men in Baton Rouge.
He says that like Sterling, many Black men are forced out of capital, entrepreneurial efforts and opportunities for employment, particularly those who have been incarcerated.
Jetson says it is crucial the public’s perception of the Black man must change; they must be viewed as assets everywhere – in their community, homes, and in public. He works hard through his initiative to pivot the conversation.
A history of mistrust remains between the Baton Rouge community and police. According to the U.S. Census, the city houses approximately 285,000 people; 54.5 percent of who are Black.
Local and government officials in Louisiana have repeatedly asked for calm throughout the day, as more details emerge in the Sterling case bring the tension to a simmering boil underneath the summer’s sweltering heat. They are afraid of another Watts, D.C., Los Angeles, Ferguson, or Baltimore.
But Jetson says violence is not the answer.
“I don’t think that there is anything to be gained from property destruction or violence,” he said. “I don’t know how that advances the calls for justice and change in our community.”
Jetson is hopeful that transparency and the public’s hunger for the truth will help heal the open wound left after Sterling’s slaying.
“I think what is crucial is that there is a consistent message that is focused around what is the truth,” he said. “When and if the people are reassured that there are efforts in place that allow for the truth to be examined and presented, I think will be critical to the process.”
On Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-Louisiana) announced that the DOJ will launch an investigation into Sterling’s shooting death. The two officers involved – Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II – have been placed on administrative leave.
It is too soon to tell if these actions will produce results to quell the pain affecting Sterling’s family. We all want justice, but as history has shown us, justice is not always guaranteed – especially if you live within a Black or brown body.
For NewsOne’s coverage on Alton Sterling, click here.
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty