Baton Rouge, Louisiana (CNN)The streets surrounding the Triple S Food Mart were still packed early Thursday, the demonstrators spilling onto lanes of stalled traffic.
Baton Rouge: A city that's been smoldering for years
Near the spot where Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police, they gathered in the humid Louisiana night. They cried. They prayed. They held signs.
Baton Rouge's national Black Lives Matter moment has arrived.
But "the African American community is tired," as Abdullah Muflahi, the food market owner who witnessed the shooting, put it.
It was only a few months ago that, during a Mardi Gras parade, thousands in Baton Rouge mocked the deaths of black men at the hands of police.
A float called "Pink Lives Matter" depicted a flamingo being beaten with a police stick. The flamingo wore a sign around its neck that read, "I can't breathe."
"The pain in our community is not their pain," Dee Alexander, 67, a black woman who lives in northern Baton Rouge, said of parade organizers. "They don't understand what it is to lose a child."
The website for the satirical parade states: "Our worldview is that 'poor taste is better than no taste at all!'"
Now, the protestors on Foster Drive -- a desolate, forbidding stretch of tire repair shops, gas stations and furniture stores on the outskirts of downtown -- are comparing Alton Sterling to Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and others whose lives were cut short.
"They come into our homes," Muflahi said of the police. "They disrespect us... We're tired of being treated like this."
The U.S. Justice Department has taken over the investigation into Sterling's death. He was shot outside the store during an encounter with two police officers. The officers could be seen in video on top of him, pinning him down, before the shots were fired. Police said Sterling was carrying a gun.
Alexander, 67, said she was a regular at the food mart before retiring from her job with the state social services department. Though she's supportive, she won't be participating in the protests.
"Anything can go wrong in the large crowds," she said.
"I tell my grandbabies to be careful," she said of her two teenaged grandsons. "Being a black man in America, you're not treated fairly."
Two officers involved in Sterling's shooting -- Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II -- have been placed on administrative leave.
Lake, a three-year veteran, was one of six Baton Rouge cops placed on administrative leave after another officer-involved shooting in December 2014, authorities said. All six officers were cleared, and no criminal charges were filed.
In fact, none of the 35 "use of force" cases investigated that year resulted in charges against Baton Rouge Police Department officers, according to the internal affairs office.
Of those, 17 were labeled as "not sustained" because of "insufficient evidence," one investigation was terminated and 12 others resulted in the officers being exonerated. The results of five other cases are unknown.
"I, for one, will not rest, and will not allow y'all to sweep him in the dirt," Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of one of Sterling's children, said Wednesday.
As she spoke, McMillon and Sterling's 15-year-old son stood by her side, sobbing.
In October 2011, former Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White told WJBO radio that racial profiling within the predominantly white police force had led to distrust in the community.
"When the question is raised, with an African-American congregation or a constituency, whether they trust the Police Department, no one raises their hand," White told the radio station. "That, in itself, is indicative of a problem, and we have got to win the trust of that community."
"It's become so ingrained in their mind that they believe that everybody they come across or most people they come across with that color of skin is probably a criminal," White added.
White confirmed making the statements to CNN but declined to comment further.
He was fired in February 2013. Officials gave no reason for the decision.
More than half of Baton Rouge's residents are black, and more than 25% of the population lives in poverty, according to census data.
The protests in Baton Rouge began Tuesday and have so far been largely peaceful. Vigils and memorials have spread across the country as well -- from Ferguson, Missouri, to Philadelphia.
"I'm urging everyone to remain peaceful, " Gov. John Bel Edwards said. "One thing is for sure: Another violent act or destruction of property is not the answer."
Alexander said that, even when the television cameras are no longer pointing to Baton Rouge, the protesters will remain.
"These tragedies will move along to other areas only to be forgotten after a time," she said.
On Thursday morning, the nation woke up to a video from Falcon Heights, Minnesota that showed Philando Castile's head slumped backward as he lay dying next to his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds.
She looked directly into the camera and said a police officer had just shot him four times.