BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Mayor Kip Holden didn’t attend Alton Sterling’s funeral on Friday, continuing his track record of being a no-show throughout the biggest thing to hit his city in years.
Strangely, the mayor’s staff said that no one currently in his office could officially confirm or deny if Holden attended, and refused to provide phone numbers to reach communications staffers who might have an answer.
Hundreds of people, including staff for Gov. John Bel Edwards, who himself was out of town for the National Governors Conference, and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, gathered at for Sterling’s funeral ten days after he was killed by two white police officers. In all that time, Mayor Holden hasn’t even called the Sterling family. President Obama called the family on Tuesday.
In fact, Holden spent several days in Washington, D.C. lobbying for transportation funding immediately after the shooting while protesters clashed with cops and the Justice Department began investing his own cops.
“The mayor did not offer his condolences to the family,” Gary Chambers, the funeral’s master of ceremonies told The Advocate. “He said recently that it would be inappropriate for him to attend, and I can’t say that I disagree.”
Protesters have been calling for Holden to resign, even chanting outside of his home. He refused to resign, saying he’d finish out his term in office. “It has been hell,” Holden recently said.
A gospel choir opened Sterling’s funeral, with most of the audience dancing to the music.
“Clap like you know Jesus,” said the leader of a prayer chant, singing a prayer for people who have lost family.
“Bless our nation, bless our president,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson. “We must choose reconciliation over retaliation and revenge.”
Still, it was impossible to separate Sterling’s death from the politics surrounding it.
“The injustices have gone on for many years,” said his cousin, Alton Sterling Jr. “Our great grandmothers were the property of our great grandfathers.”
“Still today, we ask, when will justice find us?”
The first speech to get a major crowd positive reaction came from a Nation of Islam representative who denounced black leaders who had taken part in desegregation and told young people to protest peacefully.
Meanwhile, the politicians who attended were pushing for peaceful protest.
“Protesters in the street are repaying [the older generation]” of protesters who fought for civil rights, said Rep. Richmond. He demanded that the “blatant injustices” that black Americans faced be exposed.
“We need peaceful protesters to continue to agitate.”
“We have unjust laws,” said city councilwoman Chauna Banks, criticizing white police officers killing black men, but “if you haven’t registered to vote, don’t protest, don’t march.” One election coming up is for Mayor. “This is an election year for a new mayor,” she said. “You may clap.”
Abdullah Muflahi, owner of the Triple S Mart where Sterling was selling CDs when he was killed, also spoke.
“Alton wasn’t just a CD man in front of my store. He was a good friend of mine,” Muflahi said. “There’s an empty spot outside of the store.”
Correction: Chauna Banks was previously misidentified. We regret the error.