Their statements echo the response to the deaths from President Obama, who in a Facebook message said “these fatal shootings are not isolated incidents.”
“They are symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve,” Obama said.
The shooting of one of the victims, Alton Sterling, took place in Baton Rogue, La. Responding to a report someone outside a convenience store was selling CDs and threatening people with a gun, police tackled Sterling to the ground near a store where he was selling CDs, then shot him at point-blank range. The altercation was recorded by multiple bystanders. The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation of the death.
The other victim, Philando Castile, was pulled over by police at a routine traffic stop on Wednesday. A police office asked Castile for his driver’s license and registration, at which point he informed them he had a gun. An officer then shot Castile, who died shortly after arriving at the hospital. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Castile, recorded and livestreamed in the incident. The Justice Department has said it’s aware of the incident, but hasn’t yet announced a formal investigation.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement his organization “horrified and profoundly saddened” by the deaths of Sterling and Castile.
“In less than 48 hours, these two men became the latest victims of an epidemic of brutality that continues to plague our nation, joining a tragic list of 123 black men fatally shot by police officers in 2016 alone,” Griffin said. “These men leave behind families, children and friends who struggle to find justice and healing, but are too often met with indifference and inaction by those responsible for protecting them.”
Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, condemned the shootings and called for accountability in a separate statement.
“We are heartbroken and outraged that again – twice in two days – police have shot and killed black men,” Tiven said. “We don’t know all the facts in either case, but driving with a broken tail light or selling CDs in front of a store are not punishable by death.”
Tiven added LGBT people, especially LGBT people of color, know “too well that police can discriminate, harass, and profile us when they should be protecting us.”
“As a parent, watching Alton Sterling’s 15-year-old son sob as he comprehends that he will never see his father again broke my heart,” Tiven said. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the loved ones of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille and we mourn for every victim of police violence by continuing to work for police accountability.”
Jerame Davis, executive director of the LGBT labor group Pride at Work, said in a statement “silence is no longer an option” in the aftermath of the shootings and called on Congress to take action.
“Alton Sterling was a father,” Davis said. “Philando Castile was a union brother. Their lives mattered, but those lives were taken from them in the blink of an eye by the very people designated to protect and serve us all. The repeated and continuous violations of black bodies is appalling.”