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Louisiana, It’s Time to Get Your Priorities Straight

The police shooting in Louisiana of Alton Sterling, a black man and father of five, was caught on video.  

As one commentator eloquently described it: “We’ve seen a lot of police brutality these past few years, but seeing the police first tackle and manhandle Alton Sterling, mount him like a UFC fighter, then pull their guns out and shoot him repeatedly at point-blank range, killing him right there in front of his local convenience store where he was known as the ‘CD Man,’ was equal parts devastating, infuriating, heartbreaking, maddening and overwhelming.”

The details surrounding the shooting will slowly emerge.  There will be calls for firings, for resignations, for prosecutions, for justice.  There will be investigations, incriminations, recriminations, and finally a rendering as to whether the video accurately captures the shooting and its nuances.

This shooting came only a few days after my piece on Louisiana’s newly enacted “Blue Lives Matter” amendment to its hate crime law, which makes it a hate crime in Louisiana to target someone because of their actual or perceived “employment as a law enforcement officer or firefighter.” Law enforcement officer is broadly defined to include, among others: active or retired law enforcement officers, peace officers, and wildlife enforcement agents.

Supporters of this law claimed a need to protect law enforcement officers in Louisiana.  State Senator Harris, who sponsored the bill, explained: “if you’re going to have an extensive hate crime statute then we need to protect those that are out there protecting us on a daily basis.”  

To pass this law, Louisiana politicians put aside deep partisan differences; no small feat in a beleaguered state with a Democratic governor and a Republican congress who agree on very little

After Alton Sterling, the law seems even more out of step with the truly pressing issues in Louisiana.

Fatal shooting of police officers are at their lowest rates in decades.

Meanwhile, Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the country.  In 2014, 816 out of 100,000 adults were locked up Louisiana’s state prisons and jails.

And Louisiana has gotten it wrong way too many times in some of the most important cases: Ten innocent men have been released from death row there. All the while, Louisiana bitterly fought to deny compensation for one its most high profile death row exonerees, Glen Ford, who died shortly after his release from almost 30 years in prison.

Louisiana has the highest rate of convictions of government officials for public corruption.

It is mired in poverty, and with debt.

The stench of Louisiana’s rotten history of lynchings still lingers today, as its minority population suffers disproportionately in under-resourced schools and in rates of convictions and incarceration.

It’s time for Louisiana to get its priorities straight, and for Democrats and Republicans there to work together on what is really ailing Louisiana, just as they did on the recent hate crime amendment.

Blue lives most certainly matter.

But as Alton Sterling’s violent death reminds us, every life should matter.

Published in the Huffington Post 07/07/2016.

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