BATON ROUGE, La. ― After the Department of Justice announced it would not press charges against two white police officers who killed Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, the victim’s family is still hoping for justice.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department officially announced charges would not come for Baton Rouge police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II a day after multiple media outlets reported the decision had been reached.
Sterling, a father of five, was gunned down in July 2016 as officers investigated reports of a man with a gun. Sterling, whose death was captured on video, was selling CDs in front of a convenience store when he was confronted by the police.
Speaking under a highway overpass as rain pummeled the city Wednesday, members of Sterling’s family demanded justice.
“I’m just asking everybody that you just step forward so we can continue to get justice, because it can’t stop right here,” Quinyetta McMillan, the mother of Sterling’s 16-year-old son, Cameron, said at the news conference. “We deserve it, if nobody else, we deserve it.”
Despite the DOJ decision, there’s still hope for a legal remedy for Sterling’s family. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is considering whether to bring state charges.
“So, Jeff Landry, please open up your heart, your eyes, and give us the justice that we deserve,” McMillan said.
Sterling’s aunt, Sandra, cried as she spoke of her nephew.
“Alton was human,” Sandra Sterling said. “He’s no longer here, but his voice still will be heard through us. So stay behind us, because we love Alton. We don’t want this to end. Remember his name,” she said.
In an interview with WBRZ on Tuesday, Sandra Sterling said the decision not to file federal charges “hurts so bad.”
“I have my brothers and sisters to look after,” Cameron said at the news conference Wednesday. “Eleven of them. I have to look after every last one of them because, guess what? I’m that next legacy. I’m here after my dad. My dad is now long gone, so now I’m here. I’m that legacy and I have to look after those kids.”
In reaction to the news, the Portland Trail Blazers, the team with which Roy made his name in the NBA, issued a statement of support for their former star.
“Like many others, we’re just learning of the injury suffered by former Trail Blazers player Brandon Roy in a shooting over the weekend in California,” the team said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Brandon and his family during this time.”
Roy had a short but spectacular career in the NBA. Three times in his first four seasons, he was selected to the All-Star team. However, he was dogged by knee problems that eventually forced him into retirement in 2012.
Our thoughts are with Brandon Roy and his family at this time.
Two days after a Texas police officer was placed on administrative leave in the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, authorities say video of the encounter contradicts internal information they received about it.
Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber had previously said that an officer had fired at a car of passengers heading toward police in reverse.
But at a press conference on Monday, Haber called that statement “unintentionally incorrect” and said video evidence revealed the car was actually driving away from officers.
“After further investigation, I have additional information that is contradictory to the information that was provided to me,” Haber said.
The police chief did not say who provided the original, incorrect information. He also declined to release a copy of the video to the media.
The unidentified officer at the center of the case shot into a vehicle on Saturday night, killing Edwards, a freshman at Mesquite High School. At the time of the shooting, Edwards and three other teens were riding in a vehicle that Edwards’ 16-year-old brother was driving.
On Sunday, Haber told reporters that an “unknown altercation” had occurred before the shooting, and that the officer opened fire after the vehicle started “backing down the road toward the officers in an aggressive manner.”
But the police chief now says footage from a body-worn camera tells a different story. Haber says he was “unintentionally incorrect … when I said the vehicle was backing down the road. In fact, according to the video that I viewed, the vehicle was moving forward as the officer was approached.”
Dallas attorney Lee Merritt, who represents Edwards’ family, told HuffPost on Monday that the shooting occurred as the teens were leaving a party.
“As they backed out of a parking space, they heard someone shouting profanities at them,” Merritt said. “Before they had a chance to respond, the person shouting at them shot three shots into the vehicle and one of the three rounds went into Jordan Edwards’ forehead.”
Merritt, citing witness statements, said the bullet that killed Edwards “came through the front passenger-side window.”
Haber said the officer who shot Edwards has been with the department for about six years, and has been placed on administrative leave. He also made it clear he had questions about the account he’d received and why it differed from the camera footage.
“I do have questions in relation to my observation on the video and what is consistent with the policies and core values of the Balch Springs Police Department,” Haber said.
The police chief, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to comment on the weapon the officer used to shoot Edwards.
The Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled Edwards’ death a homicide. A spokesperson for that office told HuffPost the teen’s cause of death was a “rifle wound,” but declined to say whether the weapon was an AR-15 ― a rifle popular with law enforcement agencies.
Merritt was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
Both the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office are investigating the shooting.
David Lohr covers crime and missing persons. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow him on Twitter.
It is unclear whether Selis, a resident of the apartment complex, knew the victims. One witness told NBC San Diego that the tenant who was celebrating his birthday invited Selis to join the party.That’s when Selis raised his shirt, took out a gun and shot him in the stomach. He is expected to survive.
One witness told the station that Selis smirked during the shooting. Another said he was holding a beer in one hand and a gun in the other.
Kaela Wong, 20, who was sitting in a nearby hot tub, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Selis threatened some women who were trying to help a victim.“You can either leave or you can stay here and die,” Wong said she heard Selis say.
The shooting ended shortly after officers arrived on the scene, according to Zimmerman. Twenty officers and a police helicopter had been sent. Selis was observed apparently reloading his weapon. Officers fired when he then pointed it at them.
Amit Godbole heard the gunfire from his apartment, he told the Union-Tribune.
“It was like a war zone or something,” Godbole said. “There would be three or four shots, a pause and then more shots. I was trying to count them. I counted 30 or 40.”
Court records show he filed for bankruptcy in October 2015, claiming debts of $108,028 and only $14,100 in assets. At the time, he listed a 12-year-old daughter, a 16-year-old son and a 19-year-old stepson on the forms.
One unidentified witness told the newspaper that the shooting occurred at his best friend’s birthday party. He said he was returning from the bathroom when the gunfire began. His best friend was among those shot, the witness said.
“Our hearts go out to all the victims, their families and anyone who witnessed this tragic event,” Zimmerman said at the press conference.
Police are asking for public’s help in solving this case. Anyone with information about the shooting is urged to contact authorities.
To a generation of researchers, the name “Jay Dickey” was synonymous with frustration.
For over 20 years, legislation authored by Dickey ― a former U.S. representative from Arkansas, and a Republican ― has stood in the way of public health researchers who want to examine American gun violence.
The Dickey Amendment of 1996 prohibited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding research meant to “advocate or promote gun control.” Unwilling to risk losing funding, the CDC cut back on its firearm violence research, and publications on the topic subsequently plummeted 64 percent between 1998 and 2012.
“If you are a young scientist, and you’re looking into which field you can go into to make a difference and there’s no funding, you’re not going to go into this field,” she said.
Today, just a handful of scientists regularly produce in-depth research on the subject. Given his namesake amendment’s chilling effect on their field, it would make sense for gun violence researchers to remember Dickey less than fondly. And certainly some do.
“Representative Dickey had a complicated legacy,” Charles Branas, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, told HuffPost. “The nation continues to struggle with a famine in solutions to gun violence that never materialized.”
But in the final years of his life, Dickey made an about-face: Seeing how the Dickey Amendment had damaged public health research, he admitted his mistake.
That self-awareness hit home with researchers. And it forged Dickey’s legacy of understanding and evolution, two qualities that our polarized members of Congress could do well to emulate.
“To me, it’s a huge loss. I’m very, very sad,” Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the former director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, told HuffPost.
“Spoke w Rep. Dickey a few times,” Ted Alcorn, who works at the nonprofit advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, tweeted Wednesday. “He did something rare in politics ― admitted he was wrong ― & I admire him for it.”
A rivalry that became a partnership
As younger men, Dickey and Rosenberg were archrivals.
When the pair met in person, however, they sought common ground. And over time, Dickey’s views on research shifted.
“What the highway industry did was to solve a problem that would be an example for us,” Dickey told NPR. “They had a goal of eliminating head-on collisions in our interstate system. And they never ― they didn’t come out and say, we’re going to eliminate the cars.”
Public health researchers often compare firearm deaths to traffic fatalities. As a result of public health research in the 1970s, evidence-based interventions such as child restraints, seat belts, frontal air bags, a minimum drinking age and motorcycle helmets saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
That comparison made sense to Dickey.
“Like motor vehicle injuries, violence exists in a cause-and-effect world; things happen for predictable reasons,” Dickey and Rosenberg wrote in their op-ed. “By studying the causes of a tragic — but not senseless — event, we can help prevent another.”
Dickey’s evolved thinking made a lasting impression on Rosenberg, who called it “a sign of a mature person that when you understand things differently, you’re willing to change to your mind, and you’re not so protective of your reputation.”
“We started out as fierce opponents as we could possibly be,” said Rosenberg, who plans to speak at Dickey’s funeral in Arkansas on April 29. “And we ended up coming to trust each other, and I would say deeply love and respect each other.”
That respect is echoed by others in field
“I will remember Mr. Dickey for his courage in publicly admitting his mistakes and working hard to rectify them,” Dr. Garen Wintemute, a physician at UC Davis Health who has researched gun violence for more than three decades, told HuffPost.
Erika Soto Lamb, of Everytown for Gun Safety, said she was grateful that Dickey spoke out about the importance of research.
“In order to better prevent the gun violence that kills more than 90 Americans and injures hundreds more every day, we have to improve our understanding,” she said.
“He made a compelling case for why ending research leaves us with open questions and challenges our capacity to have an informed debate,” said Dr. Sandro Galea, an epidemiologist and a dean at the Boston University School of Public Health. “If that can be his legacy, it will be worth remembering.”
In our current political climate, where the mere mention of firearms is controversial, Dickey’s willingness to critically examine his previously held beliefs is a reminder that politicians and scientists can work together for the public good.
“It’s possible to start at extremely different positions and come to listen, trust, respect and work out a path forward,” Rosenberg noted. “To me that’s a very important lesson.”
The justices again sided with the police Monday, but by choosing to not get involved. They declined to review a ruling from Texas favoring an officer who shot an unarmed man in the back after a vehicle stop. In the officer’s view, the shooting was justified because the driver had appeared to reach for a gun in his waistband.
Except it’s not at all clear that the victim, Ricardo Salazar-Limon, was even reaching for his waistband, let alone that the officer’s version of events is the final word of what happened in the case. A jury never got to weigh the conflicting versions.
Given this uncertainty, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a pointed dissenting opinion that the Supreme Court should have heard the case — if only to reaffirm the principle that juries, not judges, should be the ultimate arbiters of who’s being truthful when an officer is accused of violating a person’s civil rights.
“The question whether the officer used excessive force in shooting Salazar-Limon thus turns in large part on which man is telling the truth,” Sotomayor wrote in her opinion, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Our legal system entrusts this decision to a jury sitting as finder of fact, not a judge reviewing a paper record.”
In many ways, the facts of Salazar-Limon v. City of Houston are reminiscent of the countless incidents of police brutality that have grabbed headlines and hashtags since the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Back in 2010, Salazar-Limon had been drinking and driving erratically on a Houston freeway when Chris Thompson, a Houston Police Department officer, stopped him at a roadside check. After finding no open warrants or pending charges, Thompson asked Salazar-Limon to step out of his truck, and the two stood next to each other near the back of the vehicle.
This is where the details of their encounter gets a little hazy, and the two sides dispute what happened exactly. But one thing is clear: Salazar-Limon began to walk back to his truck, then Thompson shot him in the back. The victim testified that he was shot “immediately.” But Thompson said he shot Salazar-Limon only after he ordered him to stop walking and perceived that he was reaching for a firearm in his waistband.
Rather than acknowledge this conflicting testimony and let the case be decided by a jury, two lower courts determined that Thompson’s version of the shooting ruled the day and that he shouldn’t be held liable.
Perhaps drawing on her years as a trial judge, Sotomayor observed that “the evenhanded administration of justice does not permit such a shortcut.”
We take one step back today. Justice Sonia Sotomayor
In a footnote, Sotomayor added that the “increasing frequency” of police officers shooting unarmed suspects going for “empty waistbands” makes it all the more imperative for jurors to be the ones deciding who’s more credible in these kinds of cases.
More tellingly, the justice then expressed dismay at a “disturbing trend” in how the Supreme Court has played a role in jumping to immunize police officers who are quick to pull the trigger, while doing little to step in whenever an officer has been wrongly shielded.
“But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity in these same cases,” she wrote, as she listed case after case after case in which her colleagues instead gave officers a reprieve from liability. She called that feature an “asymmetry” that the court, at times, has tried to correct.
“We take one step back today,” Sotomayor wrote.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote a short response to Sotomayor, in which he stood up for the courts that ruled for Officer Thompson — and for the Supreme Court’s handling of similar cases.
“This is undeniably a tragic case, but as the dissent notes … we have no way of determining what actually happened in Houston on the night when Salazar-Limon was shot,” Alito wrote. “All that the lower courts and this Court can do is to apply the governing rules in a neutral fashion.”
President Donald Trump’s administration relieved Vivek Murthy of his surgeon general post Friday, cutting his four-year term in half. However, it’s not Murthy’s firing but his silence on gun violence that may tarnish his legacy.
In an April 21 Facebook post about his departure, Murthy highlighted his report on alcohol, drugs and health, as well as the millions of letters he mailed to doctors imploring them to join him in fighting the opioid crisis, as among his accomplishments.
“While I had hoped to do more to help our nation tackle its biggest health challenges, I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have served,” Murthy wrote. “Thank you, America, for the privilege of a lifetime.”
While Murthy will be remembered for shining a light on addiction in America, the way his predecessors highlighted AIDS and smoking as public health problems, he’ll also be remembered for his views on guns, which nearly kept him from being confirmed as surgeon general.
As co-founder of Doctors for America, initially named Doctors for Obama, Murthy had been outspoken about addressing gun violence as a public health problem. (His wife, Dr. Alice Chen, whom he married in 2015, is executive director of Doctors for America and a vocal advocate for gun violence research.)
After his 2013 nomination by President Barack Obama, Murthy quickly found himself in the crosshairs of the National Rifle Association, and his confirmation took a year. Tweets like the one below from 2012 likely contributed to the impression that he would advocate for gun control.
Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue. #debatehealth
The NRA, in its effort to block Murthy, lobbied Senate leaders, alerting them to his views on ammunition limits, gun buyback programs and federally funded gun violence research.
“Murthy’s record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns about the likelihood he would use the office of Surgeon General to further his preexisting campaign against gun ownership,” the NRA wrote on its website in 2014.
Murthy’s silence creates mixed legacy on gun violence
In December 2014, Murthy gained confirmation after promising senators he wouldn’t advocate for gun control as surgeon general.
True to his word, Murthy rarely mentioned firearms or gun violence during his time as surgeon general.
“He has been rather mum on the issue, as has everybody in his administration,” Dr. Sandro Galea, an epidemiologist and a dean at the Boston University School of Public Health, told HuffPost.
Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, sees that as a missed opportunity.
“He was a person who was brilliant,” Rosenberg told HuffPost. “He knew about the public health approach. He knew about the cost, the consequences and prevention of gun violence. And yet he made a deal to be silent about this.
“Someone that we needed more than ever made a deal to be silent. I think that was a huge mistake.”
Why calling gun violence a public health problem is controversial
Referring to gun violence as a public health concern, rather than solely a criminal justice issue, is controversial in Congress. In public health circles, it’s common sense.
Trump has yet to nominate a replacement for Murthy, whose deputy, Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams, is now acting surgeon general.
It’s not unprecedented for an incoming administration to appoint a surgeon general whose views line up with its own. In 1961, Dr. Leroy E. Burney stepped down to allow the Kennedy administration to nominate a surgeon general. (Burney had served a full four-year term.)
It remains to be seen whether Murthy will address gun violence now that he’s no longer surgeon general.
“I got into some trouble for saying gun violence is a public health issue,” Murthy told Stat last year. “I was stating what I think is the obvious, and I think most people in the country understand, which is that far too many people die from gun violence. And in my book, every single death from gun violence is a tragedy because it was preventable.”
This past Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sent letters to nine jurisdictions that had been identified in a May 2016 report by the DOJ Inspector General as having laws that potentially violate 8 U.S.C. § 1373—in other words, these are places that local officials have declared sanctuary cities.
Reportedly, Sessions is warning each of those cities they have to prove compliance with federal immigration laws by June or risk losing federal funding from the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant.
Named after Edward Byrne, a New York City police officer who was assassinated by a drug gang in 1988 while he sat in a marked patrol car guarding a witness, the grant provides critical funding for police departments around the country, including: law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, planning, evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.
I live in the biggest sanctuary municipality of them all―New York City―a place that celebrates its diversity, a melting pot of countless cultures where hard- working immigrants and their children can climb the educational and economic ladder. And it’s incredibly safe for a city its size, especially when compared to the rest of the country. The fact is, I feel five times more safe here than in most of Session’s home state, Alabama, which also happens to be where I grew up and visit often. Although Alabama’s biggest city, Birmingham, is going through an exciting economic and cultural rebirth, there are pockets of nasty violent crime that statistically make New York City look like Mayberry in comparison.
And, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Alabama had the third-highest rate of death by guns in the United States (behind Alaska, Montana and Louisiana). Nonetheless, Alabama’s affection for guns runs deep. State leaders in Montgomery just passed a bill eliminating the requirement for a permit from a county sheriff to carry a concealed handgun.
The bloodshed in Session’s own backyard didn’t stop him from citing Chicago’s spike in gun violence or a gang-bust in the Bay Area, and then he launched into a rant about New York City and the danger it faces from immigrants and transnational gangs.
“New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city’s ‘soft on crime’ stance,” said the DOJ statement.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio wasted no time hitting back on the “soft stance” quip. He wrote in the New York Daily News Saturday that “New York City’s record on public safety is nothing less than stunning. This is a city of 8.5 million people. We host around 60 million visitors a year. Yet, we continue to beat our own records on driving down crime.”
New York City has seen crime fall for the past quarter-century. “Last year was the safest in this city’s modern, recorded history. Last year, we had the fewest shootings,” wrote the mayor.
New York City has been doing something right. In 1990, more than 2,300 people were murdered here. By 2016, that number had dropped to 355. Since 1993 overall crime in this city has fallen 73 percent according to NYPD.
Meanwhile, in cities such as Memphis, population 600,000, there were 228 murders in 2016; in St. Louis, a town of just over 300,000, 188 murders in 2016. And, in mine and Jeff Sessions’ beloved native home state sits Birmingham, a city with barely more than 200,000 people which saw 104 people murdered in 2016.
Sanctuary cities do not permit municipal funds or resources to be applied in furtherance of enforcement of federal immigration laws―at least on paper. These cities normally do not permit police or municipal employees to inquire about one’s immigration status.
Truth be told, U.S. citizens are more likely to commit a violent crime than immigrants. Numerous studies have confirmed this. Jeff Sessions is promoting biased and xenophobic illogic. People like Sessions and President Trump are experts at exploiting fear and ignorance.
There is a also a deep scent of hypocrisy wafting from the Trump administration justice department. If Jeff Sessions and other Trump administration officials truly wanted to take a bite of crime, they would focus their energies on the abject poverty, isolationism, and the social, educational as well as economic inequity infecting many of our cities and rural areas. These are places where poverty equals hopelessness and hopelessness is a state where survival at any cost is the reality. Violent crime festers in communities and conditions like that. I’d argue that Jeff Sessions should consider New York City’s remarkable decline in violence as something to aspire to. Perhaps he could pay the city a visit, and learn a thing or two that could be implemented in places like Alabama.
Donald Trump has agreed to speak at the National Rifle Association’s upcoming annual convention in Atlanta, the organization has announced.
The NRA endorsed Trump for president last May and poured money into his campaign after he addressed the forum last year. Trump frequently spoke out in support of the right to carry guns and against “gun-free zones” on the campaign trail. At one point, he urged “Second Amendment people” to do something about Hillary Clinton — a call many viewed as urging violence against his rival, which he denied.
“If she gets to pick her judges ― nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said at a North Carolina rally last August, after suggesting Clinton would destroy gun rights. “Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know.”
The NRA is over the moon about Trump’s appearance on April 28.
“The NRA is honored to have the president address our annual meeting at the leadership forum,” spokeswoman Jennifer Baker told Bloomberg. “We’re excited to once again have a president who respects the Second Amendment.”
Trump’s son, Donald Jr., a big game hunter, is also a darling of the NRA. He headed up his father’s Second Amendment Coalition advisory group. He’s behind a current push to ease restrictions on the sale of silencers.
Trump is the first president to address the NRA’s leadership forum since Ronald Reagan did so 34 years ago. Dick Cheney spoke at the convention in 2004 when he was vice president. George H.W. Bush dropped his NRA membership in 1995 after an organization letter described some federal agents as “jack-booted thugs,” Bloomberg noted.
The convention, expected to be attended by some 80,000 people, will run from April 27-30. April 28 is the last day of government funding under the current spending bill. The government faces a partial shutdown if Congress doesn’t pass a new spending measure by then, and things could be tense back in Washington.