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Vivid revelations in police shootings ignite fury

Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist, shows where Stephon Clark was hit by bullets. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli

Vivid, egregious new facts about two police-shooting cases in capital cities are reigniting community fury in Sacramento, Calif., and Baton Rouge, La.

The big picture: In each case, officer bodycam footage revealed details of the shootings that in past eras would have gone unknown.

In Sacramento, Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man in his grandmother's backyard, "was shot six times in the back and eight times total, ... according to a private autopsy released ... by his family's legal team." (Sacramento Bee)

  • "The shooting has prompted a series of protests, ... as activists that include members of Black Lives Matter Sacramento have shut down roadways and blocked people from entering Sacramento Kings [basketball] games." (San Francisco Chronicle)

In Baton Rouge, the officer who fatally shot Alton Sterling, who was selling homemade CDs two summers ago outside a convenience store, was fired after officer bodycam video showed the officer twice calling Sterling "Stupid motherf---er" as he lay motionless and bleeding. (New Orleans Times-Picayune)

  • Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul called the video "shocking to the conscience."
  • Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry had announcedTuesday that the officers would not face state criminal charges.

Why it matters: Joanna C. Schwartz, a vice dean at UCLA School of Law who has written scholarly papers about police misconduct, tells me:

  • "[T]hese killings have been going on for a long time, and there is ... a rise and fall in public attention to these tragedies. Approximately three people have been killed by police every day this year."
  • "There are 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, and there is virtually no regulation or oversight of police violence."
  • "Change has to happen department by department."
  • "Massive public attention is key. These issues were in the spotlight of several years, then have fallen by the wayside. This week may matter because bringing and sustaining public attention is a key ingredient for change."

In Sacramento, "Clark, 22, was killed March 18 after Sacramento police received reports of a car burglar," per the Bee:

  • "Two officers followed Clark into the backyard of his grandparents' home, where they ordered him to show his hands. One officer is heard saying 'gun' before the officers fired 20 shots at Clark, according to body camera video."
  • "Clark was later found to be carrying only a cellphone."
  • N.Y. Times video from helicopter and bodycam footage

In Baton Rouge, officer bodycam video showed this exchange between 37-year-old Alton Sterling and the officer, Blane Salamoni, per the Times-Picayune:

  • Sterling: "What I did, sir?"
  • Salamoni: "Don't f---ing move or I'll f---ing shoot your ass, b----. Put your f---ing hands on the car. ... Put your hands on the car, or I'm going to shoot you in the f---ing head, you understand me? Don't you f---ing move, I'm going to shoot you in your f---ing head, you hear me? (Screaming) Don't you f---ing move."
  • An officer shouts: "He's going for the gun."
  • "Three shots are fired, and an officer yells again for Sterling to get on the ground. Three more shots are fired, after which Salamoni shouts an expletive."
  • YouTube video (Warning: Graphic content)
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