After the Baton Rouge shootings, a city joins together to honor officers

Citizens of Baton Rouge joined together Tuesday to remember three police officers after a week of violence and heightened tensions.

Gerald Herbert/AP
People attend a candlelight vigil for Baton Rouge police officer Montrell Jackson, outside Istrouma High School, where he graduated in 2001, in Baton Rouge, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Multiple police officers were killed and wounded Sunday morning in a shooting near a gas station in Baton Rouge, less than two weeks after a black man was shot and killed by police here, sparking nightly protests across the city.

Across this city, shocked residents gathered Tuesday in churches, at community vigils and a motorcycle rally to offer support for the law enforcement community and the three officers who were slain in an ambush by a gunman.

Families with children, drivers passing through and law enforcement officers from outside the area have been laying flowers and balloons or hanging crosses at a makeshift memorial in front of the B-Quick convenience store near where the officers were killed Sunday.

Tuesday evening a procession of a few hundred motorcyclists roared down Airline Highway and gathered at police headquarters to show their respects.

Funeral arrangements for two of the officers have been made public: Montrell Jackson, a 10-year police force veteran with a newborn at home, will be laid to rest Monday. Visitation for Matthew Gerald, an Iraq war veteran who became a Baton Rouge police officer less than a year ago, will be held Thursday and Friday. Funeral services will be held Friday.

As an African-American police veteran, Mr. Jackson's death shows the risks that all officers of all races face. Jackson posted his fears about police violence on his Facebook page earlier this week, The Monitor reports:

"I've experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core," he wrote the morning after a sniper in Dallas gunned down five fellow officers in Dallas, and just days after police shot and killed Alton Sterling in his city, resulting in protests where Jackson worked to keep the peace. "These are trying times."

Nine days later, however, Jackson and two other Baton Rouge officers became the latest victims in this spiral of violence - felled by a man who authorities say was specifically targeting police.

Arrangements for 45-year-old Brad Garafola, an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy and a father of four, have not been made public.

The three are among 10 law enforcement officers killed over a span of 10 turbulent days around the country by attackers — at a protest march in Dallas, a courthouse in Michigan and now a convenience store in Baton Rouge.

Even as Baton Rouge was mourning the three officers, news came Tuesday that a police in Kansas City was shot and killed while sitting in his patrol car.

In Sunday's Baton Rouge shooting, Gavin Long, a former Marine from Missouri dressed in black and carrying extra ammunition, opened fire on officers about 8:45 a.m., police said.

The officers lived in the area of Denham Springs, a quiet bedroom community across the Amite River from Baton Rouge, which has been in turmoil for two weeks. Tensions rose sharply after the death of Alton Sterling, 37, a black man killed by white Baton Rouge officers after a scuffle at a convenience store. The killing was captured on cellphone video, sparking widespread protests against police treatment of the African-American community.

Faith and community leaders, black and white, gathered at a Baton Rouge church Tuesday to discuss ways to improve police relations with local black residents.

More than 100 people with Together Baton Rouge held signs bearing the words "We refuse to be divided."

The group condemned recent violence but also called for more community policing tactics.

"Unless relationships are established, there will be no changes. Police officers need to get out of their cars and have one-on-one conversations with people in their community," said the Rev. Lee Wesley, who is black.

Wesley said the city needs to look at how potential law officers are vetted. People need to show more respect for police officers, but police officers need to show more respect for residents, he said.

One of the people paying his respects Tuesday to law enforcement officers was LSU football coach Les Miles, a prominent figure in a city where the Tigers' purple and gold colors can be seen flying everywhere.

Miles met privately in unannounced meetings with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office and Baton Rouge Police.

LSU spokesman Michael Bonnette confirmed the visits with authorities after the coach was seen entering police headquarters, where he spent more than an hour, by The Associated Press.

Bonnette says Miles wanted to express his support and discuss his appreciation for the courage police show in putting their lives on the line to protect their communities.

In Washington, President Barack Obama met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. He said after the meeting that what happened in Baton Rouge is a reminder of the extraordinary risks and dangers that law enforcement officers take every day "to protect us and our way of life."

The president said he'll use his remaining months as president to figure out which practices work best, and how to help rebuild trust between police and the communities they serve.

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