By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
The internet exploded when news that White House consultant Omarosa Manigault-Newman would attend a panel discussion surrounding issues of police brutality and raising black sons at the 42nd Annual National Association of Black Journalists Convention and Career Fair.
However, a bigger story took place before Manigault-Newman hit the tension-filled stage.
Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile and Sandra Sterling, aunt of Alton Sterling – both black men who were killed by police officers on video and days apart in 2016– spoke on life after their son and nephew’s slayings.
Sterling, who wore all red, spoke softly with pain in her voice as she explained that her family still had not gotten closure over Alton’s murder.
“I don’t see justice for us,” Sterling said. “I never got a ‘hello, sorry’ from the police chief. The last mayor never came and called me.”
A few laws were passed in Baton Rouge afterward regarding police training, she said.
Castile was killed while in a car with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter. His mother said she will continue to fight for her son’s legacy.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to get up in the morning, but I have to because I will continue to fight for my son … and change in the system itself as far as police policy and procedures,” Castile said.
Castile wore all white and spoke in anger as she talked of her son’s death.
“We’re seeing you now as a celebrity, iconic role models, someone who’s a fighter, an activist in the light, but you all are relatives still grieving, I suspect daily,” said Ed Gordon, journalist and TV host on Bounce TV, who moderated the discussion. “How do you navigate the day-to-day when you don’t want a camera, you don’t want a selfie?”
Castile said she doesn’t do a lot of talking and interviews because she has worked to make sure police killings are reduced.
“What I’ve been doing for the last year is working with the police department, police chief, governor, to formulate things that need to be changed and addressed as far as the way they police us, and somebody needs to police their police,” she said. “I’ve been in meetings with police chiefs and the governors’ team and his staff. I don’t do a lot of selfies because I think that’s more important.”
Both men’s killings were on camera, which many thought would help the investigation and trial. However, seeing the videos did more harm than help to the families.
Sterling said seeing the videos was horrible for her.
“When the Justice Department… came in, my family was sitting at a round table, and the first thing they said was, ‘I’m going to tell you about the videos, but I promise you if you can’t handle it leave the room,’ and my hands started shaking,” she said. “We said ‘What do you mean,’ and they said, ‘The videos were horrible; we lost sleep over them.’ My sister left and I stayed. And listening to the graphics of what took place, it was 90 seconds, and I almost died. It was horrible.”
Gordon asked Sterling, “how difficult was it to continue to relive it?”
Sterling began crying before answering the question, and caught her breath.
“The hardest thing for me is I went out there that day and I saw him on the ground and I saw the blood. But to see those videos every day it’s like I died with him, so I died every day for 365 days,” she said. “That was the hardest thing, to see him lying there. To see him lying on the ground I could only imagine what happened, but to see it on the video, reality came and it was a horrible way to die.”
Castile said she was upset about the trial because she felt the video evidence was enough to incriminate the officer.
“You saw what I saw, you heard what I heard, and you felt what I felt,” she said referring to the jury. “You saw it, you felt and you said that’s okay. The justice system is corrupt, we know that, let’s not play any games here. You have all the evidence you need in my son’s case, in her nephew’s case, in a lot of these cases. It’s cut and f—— dry. You know it. I don’t know where these jurors come from, we don’t know what the vote is, we just know what we’re told. And what happened in my son’s case was just as clear as the nose on your face. He got away with everything scot free. He shot in that car with no regard to human life, and they said it was okay to shoot at a child and a woman.”
Gordon talked about the media’s attempt to portray the victims negatively.
“In almost all of these cases, the victim is portrayed [negatively as] a thug. What do you want us [media] to do?” he asked.
“Everybody has a past,” Sterling said. “We all do and for the media to bring it up is the most horrific thing to do. It made me want to do a background check on them. I want to know what you did and I want to put it out there for the world to see what you did.”
Castile said she thinks it needs to be balanced.
“Call the police out, you want to talk about my son’s record, what’s the officer’s record? Don’t half-ass do it, tell the whole story.”
Advice For Youths
An audience member asked: How do you think that young people growing up are affected by police deaths? What advice would you give them?
“I’m stumped on that,” Castile said. “I did everything to protect my son and to teach him the right things to do. I told him ‘When you get stopped by the police, you have the right to carry a firearm; you went through the same rigorous background check as everybody else, and when you get pulled over – he’s been stopped about 49 times, so he has this down to a science – tell the police you have a gun. That’s common sense. Inform the officer that you have a weapon so it won’t cause a problem.’ But it created a problem, and now my son is dead, so it’s hard to say what I would say to the next person because I thought I protected my son.”