WWNO is covering the funeral of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Events open to the public begin 8 a.m. Friday, July 15, with the funeral expected to begin at 11 a.m. Expected guests include Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans). The proceedings are being held at the F.G. Clark Center on the campus of Southern University.
A driving rain drenched mourners entering the venue. About 1,000 people had gathered as of shortly after 11 a.m. Family members were overcome with emotion as they took their seats at the front of the vast auditorium. From the podium came a question from Baton Rouge Metropolitan Councilwoman Chauna Banks, "Alton Sterling's blood is crying out. Will you listen?"
NOLA.com columnist Jarvis DeBerry tweeted that the minister for the funeral began by saying, "This is a celebration of life. This is not an opportunity to be seen or protest." DeBerry tweeted that the minister requested the removal of a sign saying "Stop murder by police." It was not immediately removed.
Several speakers and musical performances excited the crowd of mourners, including Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson. "Are your brother's keeper? No! You are your brother's brother," said Jackson.
Steve Hardy of The Advocate tweeted a quote from Rev. Sharpton: "Police are arresting people for taking a step into the road instead of people who shoot others in the back."
WWNO observed Louisiana State Police, East Baton Rouge Sheriff officials, Ascension Parish Sheriff officials, and Southern University security policing the event. No Baton Rouge Police Department officials appeared to be present, neither policing nor attending the funeral. Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. were not expected to be in attendance.
Abdullah Muflahi, owner of Triple S market where the police shooting happened, choked up while recounting his friendship with Alton Sterling.
Pastor C.S. Gordon of New Zion Baptist Church in Central City speaks on the role of New Orleans’ faith community in Baton Rouge
Interview by WWNO’s Tegan Wendland
Tell us about your background, how you’ve organized around racial injustice issues in the past, and what you feel the faith community’s role is in all this.
Well historically in our community, things have changed. But the black church and black preacher have always been involved in those issues because we didn’t have anywhere else to go, anyone else to speak. Now we have people in the political arena, which is good. That does not negate the fact that our churches and our ministers need to be involved because we do bring a certain outlook on issues that other parties do not bring. As a pastor, I do not make any money from politics. I’m not on the city, state or federal government’s payroll. So the black preacher can speak freely, so he doesn’t have to worry about economic repercussions. People will try to bribe you at points, but if you’re really committed to what you’re doing those things will not touch you.
Since Hurricane Katrina, the black population of Baton Rouge has increased a lot. There are 100,000 fewer black people living in New Orleans than 15 years ago, according to the Data Center. What kind of challenges do you think that may have created for Baton Rouge?
Well I don’t know if Baton Rouge was ready for an onslaught of black people coming from New Orleans. Of course many blacks in New Orleans have roots in the Baton Rouge area and outlying areas. In my congregation I have many people who have roots in those parishes around Baton Rouge, so it makes sense that that’s where they’d flee to (after Katrina). They have relatives and friends. Some ended up staying. So I can understand the challenges would be there as Baton Rouge has had to adjust. In 2005 and 2006 I heard a number of rumors of negative experiences that people from New Orleans had (with police). I felt over time they will adjust and these things will be worked out.
It’s hard to say how many people are traveling back and forth from New Orleans to participate in Baton Rouge protests. But police arrested many people over the weekend and said many were from out of town. What do you think is compelling so many people to make that drive from New Orleans to Baton Rouge?
We live in a world of mass technology. They see a situation. They’re watching this unfold over the television, seeing police shoot this guy -- who from all indications and when you look at the video -- this guy is on the ground. That spurs people to action to see something like that. I want to emphasize that protesting is our right. I believe in peaceful protesting. But protesting by itself will not solve the problem. We’ve got to move on to the process to get to the bottom of the whole incident.