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Larry Wilmore on Alton Sterling: the punishment for being a black man shouldn’t be death

Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

On Wednesday night’s episode of Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show, host Larry Wilmore devoted a segment to talking about the death of Alton Sterling, a man police shot to death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this week.

"Thank God for fucking cellphones," Wilmore said. "Because we would never even hear about incidents like this this otherwise. In fact, part of what makes people in the black community so enraged about this is for years, we never had evidence for these things."

Sterling’s shooting was captured by bystanders — the only video evidence we’ve seen so far. Police said the body cameras the officers were wearing had fallen off.

"Fell off! Things don’t just fall off unless you’re talking about Sisqo and the face of the fucking earth," Wilmore said, then showed clips of Louisiana’s governor talking about the investigation and explaining how the Department of Justice will investigate Sterling’s death.

After some levity, Wilmore makes a powerful point about the way society tries to rationalize the irrationality of deaths like Sterling’s.

"What really gets me is that whenever this happens, there’s always an immediate takedown of the dead man’s character," Wilmore said. "So he had a criminal record. Martha Stewart has a criminal record. I don’t remember her being executed in a convenience store parking lot."

Wilmore added:

Maybe I missed it, but it feels like that would’ve made Huffington Post at least. No matter what his crimes were, Alton Sterling did not deserve to be executed for them. Look guys, the punishment for resisting arrest shouldn’t be death. The punishment for selling bootleg CDs shouldn’t be death. The punishment for having a gun in an open-carry state shouldn’t be death. The punishment for being a black man shouldn’t be death.

The night Wilmore’s monologue aired, the name Philando Castile began trending on Facebook and appearing in news reports. Castile, a black man, had been shot by police while on a routine traffic stop with his girlfriend and baby in the car. His girlfriend recorded the aftermath in a brutal and heart-wrenching Facebook Live video.

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