(SL) – After such a violent death, Alton Sterling looked peaceful as family members and friends said goodbye to the 37-year old who was shot dead by two white police officers who pinned him down outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge where he was selling CDs.
Thousands of people attended the funeral at Southern University to remember the father of five whose slaying sparked a wave of protests across the country. His aunt Sandra, still overwhelmed by his death ten days ago, had to be restrained by two men as she walked past her nephew’s body.
Sterling’s death was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely on the internet. His death, along with another fatal police shooting in Minnesota last week, sparked widespread outrage among many African-Americans over the treatment of blacks by police.
Among the mourners was Claire Carter, who came to Sterling’s visitation inside the basketball arena at Southern University, a historically black college in north Baton Rouge. She, like so many others, said she wanted aggressive policing to end.
Sterling’s encounter with police ‘went too far’ when officers tackled him and used a stun gun on him, she said. Police have said they found a gun in his pocket. But no gun is visible on the video.
Carter said she bought a rhythm and blues CD from Sterling about a year ago and took it out and played it again after his death.
Sterling’s funeral started with a gospel choir singing hymns, as many in the crowd of a couple thousand joined in.
Gary Chambers, a spokesman for the Sterling family and master of ceremonies for the funeral, said at the beginning that the event was intended to be a celebration of Sterling’s life – not an opportunity for demonstrations about his death.
‘If you want to protest please leave now,’ he told the crowd, which included two senior advisers to President Barack Obama.
Sterling was selling CDs outside the store, as he had done for years, when he was killed by police responding to a call of a man threatening someone with a gun.