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Why Alton Sterling’s execution killed a piece of every Black person in America

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Photo: A.R. Shaw

While walking on North Foster Drive in Baton Rouge, Louisiana en route to the Triple S store, it was evident that the entire area had been engulfed by the emotions of what occurred 24 hours ago. Hundreds of citizens lined the street and gathered in front of Triple S to protest the execution of Alton Sterling by police officers. A few young men stood on cars while rapping Lil Boosie’s “F— The Police” and holding protest signs. There were also people such as Brenda Mullins, who cooked and handed out free food for those in the community.

But in the midst of high emotions, music blasting from cars, and chants of “No Justice, No Peace,” there was one young boy who embodied the entire spirit of the situation without ever saying a word. The boy, who appeared to be no older than 7 years old, stood on the sidewalk with his hat backwards and holding a poster. There were several messages on the poster which included “Justice 4 Alton” and “Black Lives Matter.” But the third message was the most poignant and summed up America’s infamous history when it comes to dealing with Black men in America. The sentence “They Fear Us” was the third message scribbled on the young boy’s poster. The young boy’s eyes contained a bit of worry as if that same fear and misunderstanding would somehow lead to his own demise someday.

The fear that causes one group to act violently against another has historically served as America’s original sin. The fear that Black slaves would revolt against White slave masters often resulted in the death of innocent Black men and women. The fear that Black men would rape White women and take job opportunities from Whites often led to post-slavery lynchings. The fear that Black kids would attend the same schools as Whites led to aggressive confrontations and, eventually, White Flight. The fear that Blacks would get an opportunity to excercise their right to vote also led to physical confrontations that, at times, resulted in death. When it comes to the police murders of Black people today, that same fear exists.

Some White police officers aren’t qualified to police certain communities because they don’t take time to understand the people who live in those communities. The police officers who executed Alton Sterling didn’t know him and reacted with the same irrational fear that was exhibited during slavery and Jim Crow. And when fear meets unconscious bias or overt racism, violence and death are the likely outcomes.

The young boy who held the poster in support of Alton Sterling knows this is the reality for him and the majority of Black people who live in America. Our mothers, fathers, family members, and friends must also fear that opposing fear could meet us one day and have the upper hand. So when Alton Sterling was executed, it killed a piece of every sensible Black person in America.

While walking away from the kid, a text message revealed that another Black man, Philando Castile, was shot dead by a police officer after being pulled over for a busted tail light. The White cop feared that Castile was reaching for his registered gun. However, he was only reaching for his driver’s license.