Hundreds of protesters crowded into a small park sandwiched between busy streets. Ignoring the honking of passing cars and screaming of police sirens, they gathered to honor the life of Terrence Sterling and to demand information about the details of his death at the hands of D.C. Metropolitan police.
“We’re here for a young man who can’t speak,” said Steven Douglass, an organizer introduced as Sterling’s friend. ”Terrence Sterling laid his life down for all of us.”
“We have questions!” shouted speakers. “We want answers!” answered the crowd.
The demonstrators took to the streets on the evening of Oct. 3, starting at 3rd and M Streets where Sterling, 31, was shot by officers of Metropolitan Police Department on Sept. 11. They want D.C. Government to hold police accountable.
Speakers called on the MPD and Mayor Bowser to fire Officer Brian Trainer, 27, who fired the shot which killed Sterling. Asking for justice, they demanded to know the identity of Brian Trainer’s partner, why there was no body-worn camera footage until after the shooting and other details of the event, which was ruled a homicide by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Protesters took to a megaphone, “Muriel Bowser, we demand that you release all of the footage, release the name of the second cop, and hold all of them accountable.” Trainer and the officer who drove the police vehicle are now on administrative leave. When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the office of the city administrator said only that, “At this time, the investigation continues.”
Sterling was killed on Sept. 11, after allegedly riding his motorcycle into a police car at 3rd and M Streets NW. Police say they responded to a call for a motorcycle driving erratically nearby. Demonstrators, however, pointed out that procedures outlined by the Department of Justice dictate that shooting into a moving vehicle is prohibited, even if the vehicle is being used as a weapon. According to MPD General Order 301.03, D.C. police are prohibited from firing at or from a moving vehicle unless deadly force is being used against them or another person.
Demonstrators contested the improper use of body cameras by the officers involved in the incident, pointing out that cameras of the officers had been turned off during the events leading up to the shooting and were only later turned on during attempts to resuscitate. The footage was released on Sept. 27 by Deputy Mayor for Public Safety. “His partner’s body cam has not been accounted for,” said Douglass at the protest. “We still have questions and we need answers.” According to Communications Director of the Office of the City Administrator Olivia Dedner, Trainer was the only officer involved in the shooting equipped with a body-worn camera.
On Sept. 15, Mayor Bowser announced in a press conference that in the future D.C. dispatchers would confirm with officers that cameras were turned on at the beginning of shifts. Many protestors, however, are not satisfied with what they have perceived as silence from the mayor’s office since Sterling’s death.
The large group took to the streets, facing confrontation by a line of police officers who arrived and demanded dispersal from blocking the thoroughfare. Protesters began to march as a number of police motorcycles and cars approached. A moving line of police was established, officers holding it until protesters approached and the line moved forward, while groups of police cars followed closely behind. Hundreds of voices chanted unison against a backdrop of red and blue flashing lights. “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
Marian Gray-Hopkins, co-founder of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, spoke about the lack of criminal prosecution for Black men killed by police. “I know it’s important that they didn’t turn the camera on until after Terrence’s death, but we’ve seen across this country, cameras on and there are no indictments,” said Gray-Hopkins. “We need convictions.”
Without video footage of the moments leading up to the shooting, many were suspicious of the MPD account. “They’re so complacent with us that they called the union reps before they called the ambulance!” said Douglass. The New York Daily News reported an incident similar to this claim, with sources alleging when that NYPD Officer Peter Liang shot and killed Akai Gurley in 2014 in New York, he texted his union representative before calling an ambulance for Gurley.
Eugene Puryear, an organizer for Stop Police Terror Project D.C. condemned the District’s response, saying that it has been undemocratic. “They want to sweep the murder of Terrence Sterling under the rug,” he said.”Right here in the nation’s capital, not only is democracy dead as it concerns the vote, but Black people are being shot down in the street like dogs and nobody’s doing anything,” said Puryear. Other prominent people in the movement, such as Beverly Smith, mother of Alonzo Smith who was shot and killed by Special Police in D.C., and activist Ashley Love attended the event, calling for justice for victims of police brutality.
The rally and march was organized by Black Lives Matter DC, KeepDC4Me, Coalition of Concerned Mothers, Timothy Dawkins-El Project, Pan-African Community Action (PACA), Million Hoodies, Stop Police Terror Project DC, Asian Pacific Islander (API) Resistance, Muslim Women’s Policy Forum, and SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) DC.
Stop Police Terror DC held an action Monday, Oct. 10 and Oct. 17 at the same intersection where Sterling was killed. Demonstrators say they will continue to protest on Monday evenings until their demands are met. More information about upcoming events can also be found on the Black Lives Matter D.C. Facebook page.
As the marchers advanced towards the city, they stopped and gathered at the intersection in which Sterling had been shot. Candles in hand and fists raised high, they sang a chant “Let my people go, let my people free, I want the whole world to know, I love you like you were me.” People joined in a circle and held hands, lights flashing off of their faces, some Black, some White, some Asian, some mixed, many different. A young woman picked up the microphone and began to sing “Terrence Sterling was a freedom fighter and he taught us how to fight. So we gon’ fight all day and night until we get it right. What side are you on my people, what side are you on? We on the freedom side.”
People continued to stand. Some held hands, some held candles, some danced, some smiled, some looked somber. They all honored Sterling.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to win. We must love and protect one another, we have nothing to lose but our chains. We have nothing to lose but our chains,” they sang. “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”