by Abigail Slagle

The week of July 4th was tense and tragic for America. With the shooting of Alton Sterling Tuesday morning in front of a CD store in Baton Rouge, and later the shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN, at a traffic stop, the week was punctuated by a gunman with a military background disrupting a peaceful protest in Dallas that resulted in five innocent officers killed. The Black Lives Matter movement has permeated media coverage and public opinion in recent years to make every death of an African American by the hands of law enforcement seem like a hostile act of racism, police brutality, or to use the language on their website, “State Violence.”[1] While police should be held accountable like everyone else under the law, it is unfair that the movement portrays just acts of law enforcement and community safety as state cruelty. It detracts media attention from the unfortunate deaths that actually were a mistake.

I would like to state a disclaimer here: Deaths are always tragic for friends, family members, and the community in which someone has passed. I am not saying that deaths of African Americans by police officers are just. Certainly some deaths are not warranted; I personally feel that Philando Castile’s unfortunate passing was a mistake by an officer. But I am saying that you must look past the hashtags and press releases. Like every scenario involving law enforcement, the situation is circumstantial. You must look at the facts. In a majority of cases, “He was shot because he was black” is not a fact of the situation. I have conducted in depth research of each recent shooting, and in an effort to portray true facts of each situation, I wrote this article to explain, to the best of my ability, what really happened.

Early Tuesday morning, an individual named Alton Sterling was outside of a CD store. The police were called by a homeless man reporting that Mr. Sterling was threatening him for money. Upon mildly resisting the police officer’s demands, coupled with an action that has been debated as Mr. Sterling reaching for a firearm (that was carried illegally) and someone yelling “He’s got a gun!” the police fatally shot him.[2]

The fact that Alton Sterling is gone is no doubt sad, but the protests and media presence surrounding his death as unprovoked or racist is only one side of the story. He was not a victim of “State Violence.” Mr. Sterling was in fact, a felon with a lengthy criminal record consisting of multiple counts of aggravated battery, assault, domestic violence, burglary, resisting an officer, possession of illegal substances, illegal carrying of a weapon, failure to register as a sex offender, and owing approximately $25,000 in child support. He was also a known member of the Bloods Gang[3].

Whether the police officers that confronted him on the night of his death knew of his criminal record is unclear, however the fact that some argue he was “treated differently in the criminal justice system”[4] is not because of his skin color, but of his past record and the manner in which he reacted to police intervention. The courts would have convicted him of lengthier sentences or perhaps harsher punishments because of his criminal record, not because of his ethnicity.

To say, as the Black Lives Matter movement puts it, this event was “State Violence” is inconsistent with truth. The police officers attempting to get Mr. Sterling to cooperate were simply protecting the Baton Rouge community. Mr. Sterling was not victimized, targeted, or treated unfairly during the situation.[5] The officers were responding to a threatening call they received and acted understandably in the situation they were in.

Unfortunately, I personally think that the details we know so far about Mr. Castile’s death reveal a different scenario. Aside from minor traffic violations such as speeding and parking tickets, Castile had no criminal record and worked with children at a Montessori school.[6] He was pulled over at a traffic stop, asked to get out his license and registration, and informed the officer that he was legally permitted to carry a firearm, and was at that time. If stopped by law enforcement, you should say, “Officer, I am licensed to carry a firearm and I have it on me now. Would you like me to surrender it?” That is what Philando Castile did.[7]

After the shots were fired, it appears in the video that his girlfriend recorded, that the officer was deeply distressed over what had just happened.[8] Why the officer shot Mr. Castile is up for debate. It could have been a racial bias, it could been a completely different reason. It’s an unfortunate reality that accidents and misunderstandings involving law enforcement officials, sometimes with grave results, happen to both whites and blacks. The investigation to resolve Mr. Castile’s death is underway, and that will ultimately determine what caused his death and if it should be punishable by law.

The tension from these two, seemingly back-to-back incidents led to the tragic shooting of five Dallas Police officers. The rhetoric used by Black Lives Matter harshly retaliates against law enforcement and interprets police oversight as state violence, mimicking the Black Panthers movement of the 1960s.[9] That movement was riddled with bullet holes of hatred and violence, with regular attacks on police officers and government officials.[10]

The officers, protecting a peaceful protest about the shootings earlier in the week, even took pictures and stood with protesters in support and mourning.[11] Then, Micah Johnson, 25 year old army veteran, opened fire, claiming that he “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.” [12]

This is inherently despicable. If the Black Lives Matter movement has an end goal of absolving racism in America, you must do it by erasing racial lines, not sharpening and defining them. If I were the kind of conservative that would throw the Left’s shade back at them, I’d call the Dallas shooting racial profiling or a hate crime. Those police officers were targeted and killed for doing their job of protecting protesters.

Shetamia Taylor, a protester in Dallas the night of the shooting, was there with her young sons. When the gunfire started, she reported how the officers literally laid on top of her, protecting her and children.[13] She later described them as heroes, and now one of her sons wishes to become a police officer.[14] That is proof that the policemen wrongly murdered believed that not black, not white, but all American lives matter.

In his address at the memorial service for the 5 fallen officers, President Obama urged Americans to support 2nd Amendment restriction and called for us to “Open our hearts… to each other.”[15] I believe we must do a little more than that. Perhaps children, just as they are taught drug prevention programs, should be taught how to properly respect law enforcement officials in school. Instead of acting aggressively, teens should learn what constitutes aggressive behavior and when police are required to defend themselves and their communities.

Unfortunate accidents with police officers happen to citizens of all races. However it’s crucial to distinguish when an event is actually an accident or inappropriate conduct by an officer, and when the individual is acting hostile or threatening to law enforcement. When investigating whether race was a factor in these tragedies, it is important to consider if the criminal justice system would have treated the individual in question the same way based on prior record and conduct towards officers when approached. As President Obama said, “When people say ‘black lives matter,’ it doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter, it just means ‘all lives matter.'”

Abigail Slagle is a 2016 summer intern.