NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The killing of African-American man, Alton Sterling by police as he was pinned to the ground outside a Baton Rouge convenience store, ignited protests and confrontation between demonstrators and police. Now it has also prompted two Louisiana congressmen to reach across party lines and introduce legislation designed to give police more non-lethal force tools.
"You can look at these videos that have happened whether it's the shooting in BR or other ones across the country and you see this theme, one in many cases lacking compliance, and in other cases just recognizing that you're going from a taser that has very short term consequences very quickly to a gun with bullets," said Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge.
He and democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, who like Graves represents part of the Baton Rouge area are co-sponsoring a bill to give local and state law enforcement new non-lethal technology and de-escalation tactics.
"We have technology around the world today, whether it's military technology or civilian technologies that have the ability to subdue suspects or persons of interests, and really what the goal of the bill is is to give our law enforcement community additional tools to help prevent the death and violence that we've seen in the Alton Sterling case or in other situations around the United States," Graves said in an interview with FOX 8 News from the U.S. Capitol.
"Law enforcement gets a lot of training and one of the questions that comes up is what happens after that training?" said Dillard University criminologist, Ashraf Esmail, Ph.D.
There has been some public criticism of the type of equipment worn and weapons displayed by police responding to Baton Rouge protests over the weekend.
"Looking at law enforcement agencies in general, are we more, too much in the military-style? Secondly, do we have enough diversification in law enforcement, in terms, of Hispanics, African-Americans, and even we do, do they actually fit the culture of the community?" Dr. Esmail stated.
He said much work must be done because there is a lot of distrust among many African-Americans, and Hispanics, in terms of police.
"There's need to more inter-personal relationships between officers and the community, that's easier said than done. Law enforcement, they don't get paid that much, it's a dangerous job," Dr. Esmail said.
Congressman Graves said he has spoken to House Speaker Paul Ryan about the legislation and expects it to be well-received by members of congress.
"Congressman Richmond and I thought it was very important for us to show unity," he said.
The legislation establishes an Office of Non-Lethal Technologies and Techniques within the U.S. Department of Justice.
It also authorizes millions in grant funding for myriad related purposes.
"The idea is that we provide funding for research and development to further refine and to deploy those technologies giving our law enforcement communities additional tools, so there's a grant program in there for training, there's a grant program for the acquisition of these new non-lethal technologies and also for de-escalation techniques... to where all of these can be used in an effort to de-escalate or bring down the violence, and importantly to allow people to actually have the opportunity to defend their innocence as opposed to burying folks where unfortunately we have seen many times in the last few years," Graves stated.
The congressman said they have already had discussions with House Speaker Paul Ryan about the issue and he expects the legislation to be on the front-burner in September.