At 12.35 a.m. on 5 July, the night after Independence Day, police in Baton Rouge accosted 37-year-old Alton Sterling who was selling CDs in front of the Triple S Food Mart, a convenience store in a poor neighbourhood. Mobile phone footage, taken by members of an organisation that monitors police violence against civilians, shows two police officers pinning Sterling down and shooting him at point-blank range, multiple times. We see Sterling’s blood spread rapidly across his red shirt. We see a man die.
The rioting in Ferguson, Missouri in recent days and the mass demonstrations in 170 other US cities are testament to a deeply felt rage. That rage boils over in moments like this, when reality runs up against the continuous denials of black people’s humanity in a nation whose creed of fair and impartial justice is a sham. From its beginnings, the scales of justice in the United States have been tipped against blacks – who are often, too often, presumed guilty – and in favour of whites who are presumed innocent of nearly all matters related to race.