Baton Rouge Police weary fear after Gavin Long

July 18, 2016 10:00 am

Baton
Rouge Police Department Officer Markell Morris holds a bouquet of
flowers and a Superman figure that a citizen left at the hospital where
the officers were brought to. Photo / AP

Baton Rouge, , police officer Montrell Jackson had expressed
the exhaustion, frustration and vulnerability of being a cop as well as
any officer in these chaotic weeks.
After protests in Baton
Rouge and across the country and the assault on Dallas police, he took
to Facebook to describe his state of mind. “In uniform I get nasty
hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat,” he wrote.
“I’m tired physically and emotionally.”
But he continued to show up and do his job, he said, and he offered hugs to anyone who encountered him.
Responding
to a call about a man with an assault weapon in Baton Rouge today, he
was one of three officers fatally gunned down, a wrenching example of
the trying times right now for law enforcement.
The hail of
gunfire from one shooter and its latest casualties – three killed, three
injured – ratcheted up fears among law enforcement nationwide and
brought the number of officers shot and killed in the line of duty to 30
this year, nearly double the toll at this time last year.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my 36 years in
law enforcement. That is mind-boggling to me,” said Craig Lally,
president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, a police union.
“I don’t want this to become the norm. We cannot allow this to become
the daily routine.”
“This is perhaps the most difficult and
dangerous time in American policing history,” said Terry Cunningham,
president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “It’s
been a heartbreaking week for law enforcement, and we have to call for
an end of this violence against police.
The past two weeks have
been especially deadly, with 10 officers killed – in Dallas, in a
courtroom in Michigan and now in Baton Rouge.
“There is no place
in the for such appalling violence, and I condemn these
acts in the strongest possible terms,” Attorney-General Loretta Lynch
said. “I pledge the full support of the Department of Justice as the
investigation unfolds. Our hearts and prayers are with the fallen and
wounded officers, their families, and the entire Baton Rouge community
in this extraordinarily difficult time.”
In recent days, officers, police unions and
departments have expressed sharp concern and increased fears. Police
chiefs – from Washington, Boston, New York City, St Louis, Philadelphia
and Los Angeles County, among other places – ordered patrol officers to
go out in pairs for their safety.
“Looking at the type of attack
that happened in Dallas, a two-man car, a four-man car, a 10-man car,
isn’t going to make much of a difference. But it makes the officers feel
much safer,” Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said last week,
explaining her decision.
Over the past decade, the annual number
of officers killed in the line of duty has averaged about 53, with
around 25 by mid-year, according to FBI data. This year was roughly in
line with that average until the recent spate of fatal shootings pushed
the mid-year total to 30.
Officers have described increased
tension as they do their jobs, arising from heightened community
suspicion and increased official scrutiny of their use of deadly force.
Current
and former police officers say they feel under siege and vulnerable.
Officers have said they keep their guns with them at times when they
usually wouldn’t and feel the taunts of people who follow and film them
with cellphones while they’re working.
At a memorial for the five
slain Dallas officers, some of the grieving officers said that they
were mentally scanning and noting escape routes in case of attack – even
amid Secret Service protecting the president and vice-president and
high security.
“It’s troubling that you had this major incident
of domestic terrorism in Orlando,” said Mark Lomax, executive director
of the National Tactical Officers Association. “Then three weeks later,
it’s not even being talked about because of what happened in Dallas.
Because of what’s happening in Baton Rouge, no one is going to be
talking about Dallas. Those officers who have died, and their families,
they will be thinking about what happened each and every day for the
rest of their lives.”
Lomax was in Washington to attend a conference for the
National Organisation of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and he
acknowledged the grievances of black communities, who have continued to
protest in streets across the country against police shootings of
African Americans. Many in the past two years have criticised the police
response to such protests as excessive, he said. But when officers are
being targeted, it makes it difficult for them to move away from using a
militarised approach to law enforcement.
The recent wave of
Black Lives Matter protests against excessive force began after Baton
Rouge police shot and killed a man whom they had pinned to the ground
outside a convenience store. Then, Baton Rouge police were criticised
for responding to the protests with excessive force, sending phalanxes
of officers in riot gear into the streets and arresting nearly 200
people. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against Baton
Rouge authorities.
“Communities and legislators say we don’t want
our police to look like warriors, we want them to look like
peacekeepers,” Lomax said. “But one element of war is being attacked by
snipers. Now they are going to have to be properly equipped and trained
to deal with this.”
The conference, attended by police chiefs
from around the country, quickly turned somber as of the Baton
Rouge shooting spread.
Much of the conversation at the conference
had focused on pushing for more compassionate policing. The
police-involved shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge led to anger
and resentment toward law enforcement, said the group’s president,
Gregory Thomas, who added that police needed to show more understanding.
“The
only way we’re going to get past this moment is if law enforcement puts
their hand out and says, ‘I feel your pain,’ ” he said. “If we get a
little closer to say, ‘I’m sorry, I feel your pain,’ what is the harm?”
But the shooting in Baton Rouge, he said, was “wanton, it’s heinous. … Have we come to this? Has it come to this?”
It
remained unclear whether the three officers killed and three injured in
Baton Rouge were ambushed or whether they were responding to a shooting
in progress. The July 7 Dallas shooting, however, has spawned fears of
copycat incidents elsewhere.
Before Baton Rouge’s shooting, more
than one-third of the slain officers this year – a total of 10 – had
died in ambush attacks, concealed or unexpected assaults designed to
catch law enforcement off guard. And about 20 per cent of fatal police
shootings over the past decade have turned out to be ambushes, according
to the FBI.
Sheriff Jeff Wiley of Ascension Parish, which is
near Baton Rouge, had strong words for the people who have expressed
anti-police rhetoric in recent weeks. Wiley, whose department sent a
Swat team today to back up Baton Rouge police, said in a Facebook
posting: “To those who have for several years now “Whipped up” a frenzy
of anti-police rhetoric and repeatedly described the law enforcement and
general public relationship as “corrosive” and disrespectful … I say
this to you … get to know these usually young men and women, look into
their eyes and into their hearts before you pre-judge.”
Louisiana
passed a “Blue Lives Matter” bill in May, making it the first state
where targeting public safety workers such as police officers and
firefighters falls under Louisiana’s hate-crime law.
“The men and
women who put their lives on the line every day, often under very
dangerous circumstances are true heroes, and they deserve every
protection that we can give them,” said Louisiana Governor John Bel
Edwards at the time.

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