The governor of Louisiana on Wednesday called for calm amid local protests and national outrage Wednesday as he announced that the U.S. Department of Justice will investigate the shooting death of Alton Sterling, a black man killed by police in Baton Rouge.
The Justice Department has opened a civil rights probe into Sterling’s fatal shooting, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference. The department confirmed the start of the investigation on Twitter.
Edwards said there should be “no doubt in anybody’s mind” that the investigation will be conducted fairly and thoroughly. “When the community understands that, the tensions will ease and we’ll continue to press for calm and patience,” he told reporters. “That’s what I’m asking for right now.”
Sterling, 37, was shot dead while police apparently pinned him down outside a convenience store. The incident was caught on video and prompted calls for boycotts of the local mall and for the police chief to be fired or resign.
Baton Rouge Police said two officers responded to a disturbance call outside the store about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday. A caller told a dispatcher that a black man in a red shirt who was selling CDs had threatened him with a gun. “An altercation between Sterling and the officers ensued. Sterling was shot during the altercation and died at the scene,” the police department said in a statement.
The two officers have been placed on administrative leave.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama is aware of the situation in Baton Rouge but Earnest declined to comment further, citing the Justice Department investigation. “Regardless of what the investigation finds, there is a family in Baton Rouge and there’s a community that’s grieving right now,” Earnest said. “We’re thinking about them as they endure that grief.”