At a meeting held Tuesday in a church just blocks away from where six law enforcement officers were shot and three were killed on Sunday, members of faith-based group Together Baton Rouge strongly condemned the killings and said concrete action is needed to address systemic racial, economic, educational and gender divisions that have brought forth violence in the city.
“We call on this community to respect our police officers,” said The Rev. Lee Wesley of the Community Bible Baptist Church, who was among roughly 200 people who attended the meeting. “They are our first responders. They are here to protect us. We should pray for them. We should honor their request when we are stopped by them. There is no place in our society for these senseless killings.”
At the meeting held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Together Baton Rouge members outlined their goals and objectives for helping Baton Rouge heal in the wake of the recent police shootings as well as the July 5 death of Alton Sterling at the hands of police. The group’s goals include furthering community policing and bringing all segments of the city together for an open dialogue.
Surrounded by members of Together Baton Rouge who held signs reading, “We refuse to be divided,” Wesley called on citizens to respect law enforcement officers and for officers to show respect to citizens.
The Rev. Patti Snyder of the University Presbyterian Church urged all citizens of Baton Rouge to come together to address systemic issues, adding that if they do not there is a serious risk the city could be even further setback.
Snyder said it’s going to take courage for residents to lay bare their thoughts and emotions to one another in an honest and respectful manner, noting the truth is not always easy to hear or to speak.
“We, as a city, will need to practice listening to one another. We will need to practice speaking to one another,” Snyder said. “And we will need to practice moving forward consistently and standing together so that racism and the systems that hold that system up are brought down and we move forward as a city.”
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is located about a half mile from the scene of Sunday’s mass shooting, in which a lone gunman—29-year-old Gavin Long, a former Marine—killed three officers and wounded three others. Long was shot and killed by another law enforcement officer.
The officers killed are: Montrell Jackson, 32 and Matthew Gerald, 41, of the Baton Rouge Police Department, and Brad Garafola, 45, of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.
The shooting occurred at the end of a two-week period during which a sniper gunned down five police officers in Dallas; Sterling, a black man, was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police officers in front of a North Foster Drive convenience store; and a Minneapolis police officer killed another black man, Philando Castile. Sterling and Castile’s deaths sparked protests across the nation.