Alton Sterling, a black man from Baton Rouge, was killed by police there this week in a case that reignited tensions over police violence toward the African-American community. Another case in Minnesota, the shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop, similarly sparked outrage and protests in many parts of the country. Adding yet another layer of tragedy to the week, five police officers were gunned down by a sniper in Dallas during a protest over police violence. Seven others were wounded.
Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Sterling’s oldest son — along with her lawyer, L. Chris Stewart — spoke to CBS News correspondent David Begnaud about how her family is coping with their loss and how the nation can move forward from the recent violence.
Q: What is your reaction to the shooting of white Dallas police officers on Thursday?
McMillon: I’m sorry that that happened. Violence [does] not take care of violence.
The hurt of those families. The pain that I know they feel, because I’m going through it. It hurts. It’s just a bad situation and it’s not right.
Q: You feel a connection with the officers’ families?
McMillon: I do. I do. It hurts when you lose a loved one.
Q: How is your son Cameron (who broke down in tears during a family news conference on Sterling’s death) doing?
McMillon: Right now, Cameron is doing fine. He’s trying to get back into a regular 15-year-old life, which means being himself again. He really doesn’t like to talk about what happened, but from time to time he will, you know, speak on how he feels. I mean, he misses his father.
Q: Did you want him to see the video of what happened to his dad?
McMillon: I did not.
Q: How did he see it?
McMillon: It was everywhere. Every time he’d go to turn on YouTube or anything, everything was flashing on everything technology has.
Q: Do you remember what he said to you once he watched it?
McMillon: He said, “Mama. My daddy. My daddy, Mama. I need my daddy. I miss him so much. Why my daddy, Mama?”
Q: What do you say to a 15-year-old boy who watches that?
McMillon: I just say, “Cameron, just stay strong. Continue to pray and mama’s sorry that that happened. But I’m going to be there with you no matter what. We just have to continue to pray for each other, love each other, and ask God to just help, you know, get this world together.”
Q: Many families in Baton Rouge say their children are afraid of the police, and they’re afraid for their children. Is your son afraid of the police?
McMillon: No, he’s not afraid of the police, because they still have a lot of good police out here. Everybody is not bad.
Q: Social media has compelled the nation to react to recent events. Do you also think social media has ignited some of the violence in response that we’ve seen?
Q: Who do you blame for that?
McMillon: “I mean, you really don’t know where to start.
Mr. Stewart, you spoke at a news conference yesterday, and you said, “If you can’t watch this, something’s wrong with you.” What did you mean?
Stewart: You know, the point you start seeing that it seems like society has lost all of its humanity. Myself and my co-counsel, Attorney Bamberg, we haven’t slept yet because of what happened in Dallas. And we stayed up literally all night watching every bit of news coverage on it.
It’s heart-breaking and it’s heart-breaking on a number of levels. It’s destructive to all of the positive change that was going on. It’s idiotic because, do you think that we’re safer now? Do you think that cops are going to treat you with more respect now, or the community? Do you think that’s truly going to happen? Do you think that the officer that already had an itchy trigger finger is going to hold off a little bit longer now? Or do you think that the guy that was already on edge is going to be even more on edge and I’m going to have more clients like Alton Sterling? Which one do you think is going to happen? Do you think that fixes something? Now a whole bunch of other families that are now grieving and having to plan funerals are feeling their pain.
Q: Do you think society in any way bears a blame for the emotion that has been conjured up over the last 72 hours?
Stewart: No, because this isn’t the first time. People have seen something like this before. What people don’t understand… everyone always wants to lump people together like it’s entire groups. Black or white. It’s always the few extreme individuals that destroy peacefulness of society and destroy people’s lives. It’s the few bad cops that get caught doing something that destroy the reputation of police officers. If the few extremists from the minority community that do something that then get us all labeled as a certain way. And the problem is, that’s been going on since the turn of history. Small individuals labeling an entire group.
Q: Do you believe social media has incited some of the violence?
Stewart: Social media is just another information tool. I mean the stuff you see on social media are videos or news stories you could easily see on television. It’s just a quicker way to get it out.
There was a headline in the New York Post that had “Civil War” on it and the Post is catching a lot of heat for it. Do you believe we’re at a point of “Civil War,” if you will, in just what’s happened over the last three days? Do you feel the situation is that dire?
Stewart: If we want to let the extremists win, then people can believe that. But I’ve got more faith in this country as a whole. I’ve got more faith in African-Americans. I’ve got more faith in Caucasians. I’ve got more faith in people. The problem is that we see so many people that don’t value humanity and we blast it out everywhere like that’s the majority that we start believing it, but that’s not true.
Q: Mrs. McMillon, the father of your son died after a 911 call was made saying that a man had a weapon. Did you know Mr. Sterling to have a weapon?
McMillon: I did not.
Q: When was the last time you spoke to Mr. Sterling?
McMillon: I spoke to Mr. Sterling on Sunday. His demeanor was, after the holiday, which was that very next morning, the day after his death, he arranged to get his kids and take them to the movies, take them out to eat and spend the day with them. He said all the money I make off my CDs tonight is going towards my children.
Q: That was a full-time job for him, selling his CDs?
Q: Where do you lay the blame for what happened?
McMillon: I honestly can’t answer that.
Q: Do you blame the police?
McMillon: I blame those two officers, not all police. Those two officers. That’s who I blame for the death of my son’s father. Yes I do.