Assistant Attorney General
Principal Deputy of Civil Rights Division
Department of Justice
Assistant Attorney General Gupta,
Following the death of Alton Sterling, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced there would be a full investigation by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. I write to implore you to recognize that the killing—the execution—of Alton Sterling by the Baton Rouge police officers was unconscionable, unethical, and unconstitutional.
The mission of the Baton Rouge Police Department is
to serve with the Baton Rouge community to prevent crime and to promote the safety and well-being of all.
These two civic missions—preventing crime and promoting safety—were both woefully ignored by the officers who shot Mr. Sterling at point blank range. What of his safety and well-being? What of their crime committed? But, I realize that this, the upholding of the BRPD mission, is not your jurisdiction or responsibility.
This is yours. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice works
to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The Division enforces federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin.
If we could, for one brief moment, put aside the profound tragedy of this man’s unwarranted death, Alton Sterling’s constitutional rights were taken from him through illegal execution. He was a citizen of the United States with all the rights and responsibilities of that citizenry, including due process. As you well know, the many writers of the constitution have held this notion of due process so sacred they included it twice.
The fifth amendment:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
And the fourteenth:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
This country and the state of Louisiana failed Alton Sterling.
Baton Rouge Police officers, who should be well-trained in conflict mediation, deescalation tactics, non-lethal disarming, and community enrichment, acted unconstitutionally and illegally. They chose not to detain him. They chose to kill him.
But Alton Sterling is not the only man whose life has been taken unconstitutionally without due process by civil servants.
So, I encourage you to fight for his due process and fight for this life that was taken. This fight is not just for his justice. It is the fight for the lives of other men and women of color who are afraid of walking down their own street.
Please fight for them. Fight with whatever legal footholds you can.