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Grief, pain from Alton Sterling’s death still lingers one month later

Sterling’s aunt plans to visit the crime scene for the first time since her nephew’s death

On the one-month anniversary of Alton Sterling’s death, his aunt, Sandra Sterling, will relive one of the most difficult days of her life.

Sandra Sterling, who attended the National Association of Black Journalists/ National Association of Hispanic Journalists joint convention as a guest on Thursday, believes this will aid in the healing process at a time when the pain of her nephew’s death still lingers.

Sandra Sterling and Stop the Killing Inc. founder Arthur Reed arrived in Washington, D.C., to continue their mission of seeking solutions and speaking out against police brutality, but the approaching anniversary of Alton Sterling’s death still weighed heavily on her. “I’ve been tearing up all day,” she said.

Sandra Sterling has been keeping herself busy with demonstrations, interviews, and even expressing her emotions on Facebook, where she says more than 300 people viewed her videos, prayed and cried with her. Many of the methods have been part of her healing process, but another step will be revisiting the store where the tragic incident unfolded.

“When we get back to Baton Rouge [Louisiana], I’m going back to the crime scene and I’m going to scream and holler if that crime tape is still up there until somebody hears me or until I pass out,” Sandra Sterling said.

Alton Sterling’s death is especially hard for her because her 37-year-old nephew was more like her son. After Alton Sterling’s mother, Tanya Sterling-Edwards, died when he was 11 years old, Sandra Sterling stepped into the role her sister left behind to make sure her nephew was always taken care of.

Alton Sterling, who was shot and killed on July 5 by a police officer outside of a Baton Rouge convenience store, was the 504th person to be killed by an officer in America. Since then, the store’s parking lot has now added a mural in his honor.

A civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department is ongoing. According to Sandra Sterling, witnesses and others are still being interviewed.

In the meantime, she has been helping lead the charge for justice and understanding. On Wednesday, she and Reed, whose organization released one of the first videos of Alton Sterling’s death to the public, joined law enforcement officers, activists, and community leaders for a gathering at Ebenezer Eritrean Church in Washington, D.C. According to Reed, the group attempted to find solutions to the problems that have strained the relationship between the police and communities long before the recent struggles began.

“Everybody has a different opinion on how we should get through this,” Reed said. “One of the chief’s main things was that blacks are under attack and we’re at war, so we should just keep our mouths closed and try to make it home safely and that’s more important than trying to stress a point right now. I think that’s the biggest problem. We’ve been keeping our mouths closed too damn long, so that’s why this problem has gotten out of hand.

“If I step on your toe right now, your toe is not going to scream — your mouth will,” Reed said. “That’s because your mouth is connected to a nervous system. We have to connect ourselves back together so that when I see you hurt, I hurt the same as a family.”

Sandra Sterling doesn’t believe any real change will come until laws are updated and training in police departments are reviewed and altered. Though she has been very visible and vocal since her nephew’s death, Sandra Sterling said she has yet to be invited to any of the official forums the city of Baton Rouge has held.

“They’ve had forums in Baton Rouge and I haven’t been invited to one,” Sandra Sterling said. “I’ve been excluded. But I can go all over the world and everybody accepts me.”

Though many other avenues seem to have closed, she did acknowledge those who have been fighting their hardest — in some cases, being arrested — for justice and reform in the country.

“It means a lot to me because I met [activist DeRay McKesson at the convention] and I just gave him a hug,” she said. “I thanked him for fighting for the cause. I knew some of them went to jail, which was unjust, because we have a right to protest … I’m telling everybody to protest because I don’t know why they stopped. We never should’ve stopped protesting, we should’ve kept doing it.”

Though Friday will be another trying day for Sandra Sterling, it’s something she says she must do for herself. Though some slight progress might have been made in one month, she believes there’s still a long road to justice ahead.

“I think we’re still at ground one,” she said. “[Today] we’re going to start all over again. With me, it’ll hurt. I’m going to go back to the scene and I’m going to stand there. I’m going to react. I’m going to scream and I’m going to holler until somebody hears me, because they act like they can’t hear me, but they’re going to hear me [today]. It’s been a month. This [investigation] should be over with. Let’s get it over with so we can all heal, because the hurt is real.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.