It has been more than a week since the viral video revealing the shooting death of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers flooded social media timelines. The footage ignited widespread fear of local law enforcement and proved that the nation’s woes were no longer just on television but right in residents’ yards, literally.
Now with the home front being a national headline, three Baton Rouge men tell their stories of what it is to be the prototype victim for police brutality. As they leave their homes everyday with the notion that they could be “next” just because they are large, Black men.
Dominique Ricks, a 24-year-old educator from Baton Rouge whose first negative encounter with police occurred when he was 13 years old.
Officers approached Ricks and a friend who were opposite descriptions of the suspects for whom they were looking. Ricks recalled that his mother came on the scene and told the officers that the two were good kids. Officers responded that they didn’t know if Ricks was a good kid, and they didn’t know if they were talking to an honor student or Saddam Hussein.
“I’ve always feared interaction with the police,” Ricks said. “Ever since then, I’ve had a certain understanding: they don’t know who I am (and) a lot of times, they don’t care who I am, so it’s best for me to stay in my lane and avoid them.”
Now at 6-foot-1, 291 pounds, his fears have only heightened as his hometown has become a hashtag.
“I’m afraid that my son might end up growing up without a father, and it’s not because I’m not going to be a part of his life, but because I might get taken away,” Ricks said.
But he continued that the Sterling incident did not shock him. He is only happy that it was caught on camera. He said he hopes justice will be served.
Meet radio and television personality, Tony King, a 36-year-old Houston native who is 6-foot-2, 271 pounds and admittedly has a negative history in the criminal justice system. He said he accepts responsibility for his previous actions and has since turned his life around.
“That one mistake doesn’t define who and what I am, and it does not take away the value of my life,” King said.
“There’s a level of humanity that is being missed, and when you have people in the community who refuse to see the humanity in everybody–not just people who look like them–then to me, that’s a problem.”
King, much like Ricks, hasn’t experienced heightened fear of interactions with police. Instead, King said, he’s always been afraid. “My fear looks the same as it has always been,” King said. “Every time an officer pulls up behind me, my chest tightens.”
Meet Marcel P. Black, a 32-year-old youth development worker and local emcee from Ardmore, Okla. Black, who considers himself an activist, has lived in Baton Rouge since attending Southern University and A&M College, and has started his family in the city.
As what is referred to as an underground emcee, Black, who is 6-foot-3, 350 pounds, said many times he has sold CDs in front of establishments. “I could have been Alton Sterling,” Black said. “I wear cargo shorts a lot, I wear red t-shirts a lot. We are about the same skin tone, about the same size. That could have been me.”
Aside from seeing a mirror image of himself in Sterling, Black also said he believes there is a lack of concern for north Baton Rouge that contributes to residents feeling undervalued and creating a culture of unsafe interactions with law enforcement officials.
“The city created these conditions in north Baton Rouge,” Black said. “North Baton Rouge is under-funded: no hospitals, no healthcare, no jobs, no access to mental health, no healthy food, and then they want to police it, and you wonder why there is unrest.”
Black is a facilitator of a conversation group called Black Men Talk. The group meets monthly or as needed to discuss issues relating to Black men, mostly in regards to current events. But it’s just conversation. Black said action must be taken to prevent further unrest.
“We got work to do. Our lives are different now. Our lives will never, ever be the same,” Black said. “Let’s talk prison reform, let’s talk police reform. We got work to do. Lord willing, we stay mobilized and organized, so we can keep doing this. I want to encourage everybody: this is our fight from here on out.”
Work to be done is a sentiment that Black shares with national NAACP president Cornell William Brooks. Brooks warns that all work headed towards success in justice must be planned and well-thought-out.
“We cannot be called upon as a community to serially grieve,” Brooks said. “We have to prevent these horrific videos and hashtags and tragedies from occurring again and again.”
This month Brooks is celebrating two years as national president, and the time is eerily similar to when he was just two weeks into the role, when Eric Garner was killed by officers in Staten Island, New York. Garner was detained after selling loose cigarettes.
“I would assert that people participating in this so-called underground economy, which is basically small entrepreneurship.This is nothing anybody should lose their lives for, so we’re here to send the message that we’re not going to grieve serially. We have to call for specific policy, legislative reform.”
But before talking reform, Brooks encourages the community to allow a moment to grieve, followed by a moment to come together and then a decisive course of action.
“Everybody needs to come together,” Brooks said. “And beyond that, a plan. We are at a time of both increased activism and heightened apprehension. There’s a reason to be vigilant, however it’s not a reason to be paralyzed. We cannot outsource the safety of our community to other people.”
He said, “We gotta act now.”
Understanding that there are people who will be fearful to stand on the front lines in times of social and civil unrest and police misconduct, Brooks compared the movement to that of a band.
“One band, one sound, but that doesn’t mean everyone plays the same instrument,” he said.
“When you see your sons and daughters being profiled, when you see your people being disrespected, when you see your community being disrespected, now may be the time to engage in activism, even if that’s not your thing,” Brooks said.
“Beyond that, if you can’t stand on the front lines, then you raise some money for the people standing on the front lines, then you register folks to vote so that they can support the agenda of the people standing on the front line.
The point being, in this post-millennium civil rights movement, there is a role for everyone to play.”
Brooks encourages individuals who want to participate in taking action to visit NAACP.org for resources, including research based data for each state in regards to protest and demonstration laws. He also encourages citizens to let their fears motivate them to join together with others who seek justice.
By Leslie D. Rose
Jozef Syndicate reporter