By Megan Brady-Perry, Nancy Dillon, New York Daily News
The hands that were empty when he was shot dead by two white police officers last week were gently clasped together in his open casket Friday.
Alton Sterling was laid to rest at an emotional funeral service at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Hundreds of mourners filed past his gleaming silver casket and paid their respects to the Black father of five who was pinned to the pavement outside the Triple S convenience store just a few miles away and pumped with bullets at point blank range July 5.
Sterling’s caught-on-video death along with the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota a day later ignited widespread outrage and pro-tests over the treatment of Blacks by police.
Triple S owner Abdullah Muflahi spoke to the crowd Friday, recalling the friend he called “Big Boy” and watched die.
“He showed me a lot of love. He looked out for me. He was friendly, welcoming. He was truly the meaning of southern hospitality,” Muflahi said.
“He made himself a place in everyone’s heart, whether they was young, old. I know this be-cause he made himself a place in mine. It’s just sad to see that we’re going to have an empty spot in front of the store. I’m gonna miss how we used to joke, how we used to make fun of each other.”
He then quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying “‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’ Let’s all love like Alton did.”
Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson also spoke at the service, praising the Sterling family for their resolve to seek justice while calling for peace and unity.
“Despite the fact that a grave injustice has happened, you have held your heads high with great dignity and with a example of what this nation should be. But let us not beat around the bush. This is wrong,” Sharpton said.
“I don’t care how saved you are, how holy you are, wrong is wrong. And some of us are so busy to get past this (but) you can’t get past it until you deal with it. Wrong must be corrected and the wrong must be held accountable,” he said.
Sharpton invoked the memories of other Black men killed in confrontations with police, including Eric Garner, the 43-year-old Staten Island dad who died in a cop’s chokehold two years ago.
“We have got to stop going from funeral to funeral, and America needs to deal when wrong is wrong, and whoever does the wrong needs to pay the price for doing wrong,” he said.
“We’re not anti-police, we’re anti-wrong,” Sharpton said. “It’s wicked to just let a string of killings go and nobody pays.”
Jackson referenced the shooting of five white police officers in Dallas last week by Micah Johnson and said the lone Black gunman didn’t represent the views of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“The young man who killed the police in Texas should not have done it. He was not trained by Black Lives Matter. He came out of the military,” Jackson said, referring to Johnson’s Army tour in Afghanistan.
He called the heartbreaking violence last week a “wake-up call.”
“This young man that did the killing in Texas was a product of our sickness,” he said. “The blood flowing in our streets is so devastating, it makes strong men and women cry, it mobilizes a nation. Three acts of violence did what 10,000 sermons could not do – make us look at the mirror, and we don’t like what we see.”
He asked Americans to reach out to one another and seek understanding.
“We must choose bridges over walls. Walls divide, bridges connect,” Jackson said. “We apologize, Alton, we could have done better when you were alive.”
Sterling was selling CDs outside the convenience store around midnight July 5 when a homeless man called 911 and said Sterling was carrying a gun.
Video of the police shooting captured startling images of the incident and its aftermath, with blood pouring from Sterling’s chest and his hands empty.
“While he was laying there dying, the cop went inside his pocket to pull the gun out,” Muflahi previously told the media. “His hand was not in his pocket, nor did he have the gun in his hand.”
Sterling’s death heightened tensions in the city along the Mississippi River, where about 200 protesters were arrested over the weekend.
Sterling’s 15-year-old son Cameron pleaded for peace Wednesday, asking people to act “as one united family.”
“You can protest, but I want everyone to protest the right way. With peace. No violence – none whatsoever,” the teen said just steps from where his dad lost his life.
“I truly feel that my father was a good man, and he will always be a good man,” he said. “I feel that people in general should come together as one united family.”