Americans responded with an outpouring of shock, anger, resolve and generosity as they grappled with the news this week of two fatal shootings of black men by police officers—and with the harrowing footage witnesses captured of both incidents.
President Obama addressed the nation to urge, “We are better than this.” As he spoke late Thursday evening, thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters were marching through the streets of New York City demanding change and accountability, following demonstrations earlier in the day across the country. Others donated to funds that quickly sprang up for the two men’s families, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The week’s bloodshed began when Alton Sterling, 37, was shot dead by police early Tuesday in Baton Rouge, La. Video of the incident captured by a bystander shows Sterling being shot as two officers pinned him to the ground outside a convenience store.
One day later, on Wednesday evening, Philando Castile, 32, was pulled over while driving in Falcon Heights, Minn. Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car, said that he was shot after telling police that he had a gun he was licensed to carry. Reynolds streamed the aftermath of the shooting via Facebook Live, showing Castile in a blood-soaked shirt and a police officer pointing a gun through the window.
These two deaths, and the videos that accompanied them, prompted reactions across America. Here’s how nation responded:
“All of us as Americans should be troubled by the shootings,” President Obama said in an address from Poland, where he is traveling.
“When incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin they are not being treated the same,” the President continued, arguing that black and Latino Americans are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system, based on law enforcement data. “That hurts and that should trouble all of us.”
Obama called for the country to come together to resolve the issues raised by the shootings.
“This is not just a black issue,” the President added. “This is not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about. It’s incumbent on all of us to say we can do better than this. We are better than this.”
Relatives and Friends
Family members of Sterling spoke out Wednesday, calling for justice in his death. “I, for one, will not rest or not allow him to be swept in the dirt,” said Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Sterling’s 15-year-old son Cameron, who was in tears during the emotional news conference.
On Thursday, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, wept as she told reporters police had killed a man she described as her “lifeblood.” Reynolds said that her daughter—who was in the car when Castile was shot—would be “forever scarred.”
Those close to Castile remembered him as a role model for the hundreds of children he served while working as a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in Saint Paul, Minn.
“He remembered their names. He remembered who couldn’t have milk. He knew what they could have to eat and what they couldn’t,” said Joan Edman, a recently retired paraprofessional at the school, in an interview with TIME. “This was a real guy. He made a real contribution.
Protests erupted across the country following news of Sterling and Castile’s deaths. Demonstrations took place in the Louisiana capital in the days following Sterling’s shooting, and thousands of protesters gathered Thursday in New York City’s Union Square, resulting in several arrests.
In Minnesota, many mourned Castile outside of the school where he worked, while others demonstrated outside of the governor’s residence.
Many elected officials called for action in response to the shootings. Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Keith Ellison—both progressive leaders from Minnesota—released statements on the the shooting of Castile, calling for a Justice Department investigation. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton also called for an investigation into the shooting in a speech Thursday, adding that he didn’t think the shooting would “have happened if those passengers…were white.”
The earlier shooting in Louisiana also prompted outcry from political leaders, including Hillary Clinton, who called the death a “tragedy,” and Bernie Sanders, who said the shootings were “an all too common occurrence for people of color.”
Many celebrities offered their condolences on social media—along with their frustration and desire for change. Rapper Drake wrote on Instagram that the video of police shooting Sterling left him feeling “truly scared,” while television producer Shonda Rhimes posted on Twitter that she was “too sad” to write a “furious” tweet about the shootings
Beyoncé penned an open letter on her website, calling for fans to take action by contacting their local representatives and demanding justice. “These robberies of lives make us feel helpless and hopeless but we have to believe that we are fighting for the rights of the next generation, for the next young men and women who believe in good,” the singer wrote.
Actor Jesse Williams, who delivered a powerful speech last month on racism at the BET Awards, spoke out again this week, asking on Twitter, “would ye noble patriots please provide a list of infractions punishable by spontaneous public execution? Thanks!”
Issa Rae, star of Awkward Black Girl, started a scholarship fund for the five children Alton Sterling left behind. The GoFundMe campaign has raised nearly $500,000 in donations.
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