By Hazel Trice Edney
America was still mourning the ambush-style killing of four Dallas police officers Sunday when the news hit that three more police officers were killed in yet another ambush. This time in Baton Rouge. The killings of seven police officers – by two apparently lone Black vigilantes – came amidst intense protests following the videotaped apparently senseless police killings of Black citizens Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge and Philando Castile of Falcon Heights, Minn. The breaking news of three more police killings on Sunday – despite pleas for peace coming from President Obama, civil rights leaders, politicians and other leaders – has exacerbated community and police tension and fears, causing a Sterling family member to tearfully plead for peace.
“We are a peaceful people. We just had a meeting yesterday to make sure everyone was on one accord,” said Sterling’s aunt, Veda Washington-Abusaleh, in a message video-taped by a local news agency. “That’s how this all started – with bloodshed,” she said, becoming increasingly emotional until her voice pitched, demanding an end all violence: “We don’t want no more bloodshed! So if you’re not on one accord with us, leave, go home, go where ever you came from. This is our house. You can’t come in our house killing us! That’s what you’re doing because at the end of the day, when these people call these families and they tell them that their daddies and their mamas are not coming home no more, I know how they feel because I got that same phone call. No justice, no peace! That’s what we’re calling for. Stop this killing! Stop this killing! Stop this killing!”
Her painful outcry echoed the more subdued; yet equally sincere appeals from President Obama, who – just having eulogized four Dallas officers – appeared stunned at the continued violence. “I condemn, in the strongest sense of the word, the attack on law enforcement in Baton Rouge. For the second time in two weeks, police officers who put their lives on the line for ours every day were doing their job when they were killed in a cowardly and reprehensible assault. These are attacks on public servants, on the rule of law, and on civilized society, and they have to stop,” he said.
“We may not yet know the motives for this attack, but I want to be clear: there is no justification for violence against law enforcement. None. These attacks are the work of cowards who speak for no one. They right no wrongs. They advance no causes. The officers in Baton Rouge; the officers in Dallas – they were our fellow Americans, part of our community, part of our country, with people who loved and needed them, and who need us now – all of us – to be at our best.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) also issued a statement expressing outrage on Sunday. “Members of the Congressional Black Caucus offer our deepest sympathies to the families of the officers killed and injured in today’s shooting in Baton Rouge. Tensions are high in our country, but violence does not lead to justice and targeting law enforcement does not bring about solutions. The CBC continues to call for peace and we stand by state and federal officials as they investigate to find the individuals responsible for today’s horrific event.”
By the time these statements were released, Gavin E. Long, a 29-year-old former Marine, had been killed in a shootout with police. A preliminary investigation revealed that Long lured police by calling 911 and reporting a man dressed in a Ninja uniform carrying a rifle. When they arrived, he opened fire killing three and wounding three. The Falcon Heights killing of five Dallas officers happened during a protest against the Baton Rouge and Minneapolis shootings. The suspect, Micah Johnson, also a military veteran, was killed by a police robot carrying a bomb as he hid in a parking garage.
The names of the three Baton Rouge officers killed are Montrell Jackson, a 10-year-veteran, who is Black; rookie Matthew Gerald, 41; and Brad Garafola, 45, a 24-year veteran of the force. Falcon Heights, Minn. Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who killed Castile as he reached for his driver’s license as requested, remains on administrative leave pending state and federal investigations. Baton Rouge Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, who shot Sterling after pinning him to the ground, are also on administrative leave pending investigations.
Meanwhile, civil rights leaders have constantly encouraged protests but pleaded for peace since the videotaped killings of Castile and Sterling. Those pleas have escalated since Sunday.
“Our hearts are broken at the news of three more police killed and three more wounded,” said National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial. “The epidemic of gun violence in our nation has been at crisis levels for several years and requires immediate action.”
Kristin Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, showed equal empathy for the families of the police officers and the citizens by condemning all hate. “While there are many unanswered questions regarding this incident, all people of sound mind and good conscience agree that violence threatens the fabric of our nation. We mourn with the residents of Baton Rouge who, within the last several days, have been faced with dual tragedies of monumental proportion,” Clarke said.
“We hope that the days that lie ahead provide opportunity for the residents of Baton Rouge and our nation to stand together in opposing violence and hate of any kind.”