- LaMont Cole
city councilmember for District 7 in Baton Rouge, where Alton Sterling was killed by police this month. Cole is a 20-year educator and chief academic officer for Community School for Apprenticeship Learning, a charter school in Baton Rouge.
In Baton Rouge, three police officers were killed and three others were wounded in a shooting rampage on Sunday following more than a week of protests against police violence that were sparked by the fatal shooting of Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling by police. According to reports, the officers were responding to a 911 call of shots fired when they were ambushed by a gunman. Officials identified the gunman as Gavin Long of Kansas City, Missouri. Long, who was African-American, served in the Marines from 2005 to 2010, reaching the rank of sergeant. He deployed to Iraq from June 2008 to January 2009, according to military records, and was awarded several medals, including one for good conduct, and received an honorable discharge. We go to Baton Rouge, where we are joined by LaMont Cole, city councilmember for District 7 in Baton Rouge, the area where Alton Sterling was killed by police this month.
AMY GOODMAN: In Baton Rouge, three police officers were killed and three others wounded in a shooting rampage Sunday. The shooting began just before 9:00 a.m. at a gas station on the city’s Airline Highway, a mile from the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters. The police department has been the site of more than a week of protests against police violence. The demonstrations were sparked by the fatal shooting of Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling by police. According to reports, Baton Rouge officers were responding to a 911 call of shots fired when they were ambushed by a gunman. Colonel Michael Edmonson of the Louisiana State Police described the scene.
COL. MICHAEL EDMONSON: At approximately 8:40 a.m., Baton Rouge PD officers at a convenience store observed the individual. He was wearing all black, standing behind a beauty supply store, holding a rifle. At approximately 8:42 a.m., reports received of shots fired. At approximately 8:44 a.m., reports received of officers down on the scene. At 8:45, reports received of more shots being fired. At 8:46 a.m., reports received of the suspect, again, that was wearing all black, standing near a car wash located right next to the convenience store. At 8:48, our emergency EMS units started arriving at the scene. They were staging so they could start approaching and getting the bodies that were at the scene to render first aid. Officers engaged in subject at that particular time, and he ultimately died at the scene. That was officers that were responding to the scene itself.
AMY GOODMAN: The slain officers were identified as Montrell Jackson and Matthew Gerald of the Baton Rouge Police Department and Deputy Brad Garafola of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Officials identified the gunman as Gavin Long of Kansas City, Missouri. Long, who was African-American, served in the Marines from 2005 to 2010, reaching the rank of sergeant. He deployed to Iraq from June 2008 to January 2009, according to military records. Long was awarded several medals, including one for good conduct, and received an honorable discharge. Initial reports were that two persons of interest had been detained. But late on Sunday, the Louisiana State Police said they were released without charge. Authorities are now looking into Long’s online identity, Cosmo Setepenra. On a website published under the alias, Long described himself as, quote, “Freedom Strategist, Mental Game Coach, Nutritionist, Author and Spiritual Advisor.” Long turned 29 on Sunday, the day of the rampage. Earlier this month, after Army veteran Micah Johnson shot dead five police officers in Dallas, Long wrote a message online saying, quote, “With a brother killing the police you get what I’m saying—it’s justice.”
The shootings of the officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas follow the police killings earlier this month of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Speaking Sunday, President Obama called for national unity.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We, as a nation, have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement. Attacks on police are an attack on all of us.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Baton Rouge, where we’re joined by LaMont Cole, city councilman for District 7 in Baton Rouge. It’s the area where Alton Sterling was killed by police this month.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what happened this weekend, just yesterday, Sunday, Baton Rouge time about 9:00 in the morning, the killing of the three officers?
LAMONT COLE: Good morning. Thank you for having me. Yes, on yesterday, I was—I had just left church. I went to the early service, and I was driving down the street, and a friend of mine who works in law enforcement called me and said, “Have you heard?” And I said, “Heard what?” And he told me that there was a shooting taking place right then and there with officers down on the scene, and that if he could, he would give me a call back a little bit later. I got home, I turned the television on, and the local news stations were already reporting, and then the national news stations picked it up. And so, I followed it on television like everyone else.
Immediately, I was disturbed by the images. I was disturbed by the information we were receiving relative to the officers being down. And before I jumped to judgment, I took my phone out and started texting officers that I know who are friends of mine that work for the state police, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Baton Rouge City Police Department, just to make sure they were OK. I soon realized I have over 20 friends that work in law enforcement here in the city. And all of them, fortunately, were OK. Of course, we recognize now that three officers were gunned down in our streets, and we’re sympathetic, empathetic and saddened by this tragedy in our city, and our hearts and prayers are with the families of those officers.
And I think, for our city, it’s challenging, because we’ve experienced two killings in the streets over the last two weeks, 13 days, that have received national attention, and I think it speaks to some of the ills that we have in our society at large. But more importantly, when things like this happen in your city, it’s an opportunity for us to move forward and be better as a result of it.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to this clip, turn to Alton Sterling’s aunt, Veda Washington-Abusaleh, speaking on Sunday after learning about the shooting that left the three officers dead and the others wounded, one critically. This is what she said.
VEDA WASHINGTON-ABUSALEH: We don’t call for no bloodshed. That’s how this all started—with bloodshed. We don’t want no more bloodshed. So if you’re not in accord with us, leave, go home, go wherever you come 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 not coming home no more, I know how they feel, because I got the same phone call. No justice. No justice, no peace! That’s what we’re calling for. Stop this killing! Stop this killing! Stop this killing!
AMY GOODMAN: That is Veda Washington-Abusaleh, who is the aunt of Alton Sterling. LaMont Cole, can you talk about her call for peace and for justice?
LAMONT COLE: You know, my heart goes out to she, as well as the other members of the Sterling family. Sandra Sterling, one of his aunts, and I are very good friends and have talked every day since. And, you know, I agree with her that bloodshed is what is leading to many of the tense nature that we have in the city, and is leading to some of the challenging times that we’re experiencing in our country, and is leading to more bloodshed. So I agree with her that this is not what we want to see. This is not with the family wanted to see. This is not what they are about. The Sterling family is extremely large here in our city, and they’re a great group of people. All of the Sterlings that I know are a great group of people. And this is nothing that any of them would want. So, the passion, the pain in her voice, the tears, they’re real. And she feels for those families, and she understands what they’re experiencing, because, you know, 13 days ago, she and her family experienced the same thing. So I think we’re all on the same page in terms of not wanting to see this type of tragedy take place in our city on behalf of the police department as well as our citizens.
I think we have to get to a point where we work to keep our communities safe, and then we have to work extremely hard to keep our police officers say. I mean, this may sound a bit selfish, but, ultimately, who am I supposed to call when I feel unsafe, if I can’t make sure, if I’m not working or if I’m not discussing how we keep those who have been charged with protecting us—how we keep those individuals safe? And as I said before, so many friends of mine work in law enforcement, and I don’t want to see any of them killed in the street, doing such a dangerous job and putting their life on the line every single day. So I echo what Miss Sterling is saying, and I sincerely hope that we can work together to make sure that we come up with solutions that are going to make our community better.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the mayor. Many are calling for him to resign, Kip Holden, protests outside the police department. So many attended Alton Sterling’s funeral on Friday, the memorial service, but not the mayor—inexplicable absence. Do you think he should have been there? Do you feel he should resign, City Councilman?
LAMONT COLE: That’s a tough question. I know the mayor very well. I’ve known him a long time. And I think it’s just a very challenging position for him to be in as the leader of this city, as the three-term—as the first three-term mayor, as the first African-American mayor. And so, I do understand the frustration some may have with the decision that he made. But I will say this: I can’t speak for him. I was at the funeral. I have attended many of the protests here in the city. All of the protests that I’ve attended have been extremely peaceful. I’ve visited with the family. I’ve attended the store, visited the store at least eight of the last 13 days, to be there with the people. And I think, in leadership, the right move to make is always to be with the people that elected you to be in office.
As it relates to him choosing to resign, that’s a tough decision for him. He’s said publicly that that’s something he’s not going to do. He’s not going to resign from office. And I know people are angry, and I know people are frustrated with some of the choices he’s making. But I will simply say this: Decisions we make dictate the life we lead, and I wouldn’t want to be him right now at this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know why, since you know him well, he chose not to attend? And apparently, though I can’t confirm this, he hasn’t even called the Sterling family. President Obama called the family.
LAMONT COLE: No, you know, I do know him well, but we’ve not spoken in about two-and-a-half months. So I’m not sure why he’s choosing to do some of the things that he’s doing. And I’m not judging. Please understand, I’m not judging any of the decisions that our mayor is making. But what I am saying is that in a situation like this—I myself have been in a position where I was elected by the people who live in that community—I made sure I visited with the family, I contacted the family, I offered my condolences, I made sure that we sent something from our office to the funeral. I made sure to be with the family on the day of the funeral, just to offer condolences and support. And I’ve made sure to stay in contact with those members of the family that I know well. So, you know, again, I can’t speak to any decisions he’s made. He’d have to answer for those himself. But what I will say is that, you know, during the rest of his term, with three months left on his term, I think that he and the rest of us need to start working towards real solutions in terms of how to keep our community safe and as well how to keep our police department safe.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the officers killed in Baton Rouge has been identified as 32-year-old Montrell Jackson, married father of a new baby boy. Jackson, who described himself as humble and kind, was a 10-year veteran of the Baton Rouge Police Department. He responded to the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge as well as the shooting of Dallas police officers, in a Facebook post, which was dated July 8th. He wrote, quote, “I’m tired physically and emotionally. … Thank you to everyone that has reached out to me or my wife it was needed and much appreciated. I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform, I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core. … Finally I personally want to send prayers out to everyone directly affected by this tragedy. These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer, I got you.” Again, those are the words of the officer who was gunned down on Sunday. Your thoughts on this, City Councilmember LaMont Cole?
LAMONT COLE: Every single time someone reads that on television or I read it myself, I get a lump in my throat. He summed up the situation so eloquently. I think the passion in his words is evident. I think that officer cared about this city, cared about the people he was charged with working with. And I think it was extremely challenging. And I understand some of what he was saying, being an African-American male living in the city who does work every day with young people and tries to make sure we’re doing the right types of things to move the city forward.
I’ve seen Montrell on duty and working in the community. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve seen him. Baton Rouge is a big small town. And so, I recognized that everyone he came in contact with, from my observation, he was—he treated with the ultimate respect. I think that—I work in the school system here in the city, as well, and so I come in contact with law enforcement quite often at various different extracurricular activities. And so I’ve seen him at various different events. He was a good man, from observation. And I think his words spoke to his character, the integrity that he carried as he wore the uniform, and the way he carried himself in our community.
And so, I think this city has lost a great individual, has lost it from a tragic incident. A young baby won’t grow up knowing his father. And I think it’s extremely unfortunate. But to sum up his words, it’s amazing to me that he had that thought process so soon after such tragic events and not knowing what his fate would be, going forward. And so, it’s great to have an individual express himself so well and to be remembered by those words. And so, I commend him for the life that he lived, and I hope that we can celebrate him in death.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, can you respond to the so-called Blue Lives Matter law and also the fact that after Sterling—Alton Sterling’s death, close to 200 people were arrested? The ACLU has filed suit, saying unnecessary force, excessive arrests. What are your thoughts on this, Councilman?
LAMONT COLE: Well, I think that this is the first time that we have experienced anything like this in our city. And I think people were on edge and responded the best way they knew how. And I take caution with what I observed in news media, what I saw on social media videos, in terms of how police were interacting with our residents. And I had some concerns about that. I think it was extremely tough, not only for the police department, but for the protesters, as well. I think people were angry. I think people were frustrated. I know I was angry. I know I was frustrated. I know I was one of the participants of many protests. And I just think that people reacted in a way based on emotion. And I think oftentimes when we act on emotion without the benefit of intellect, we make decisions sometimes that we regret.
And I think that over 180 people being arrested was a bit excessive in terms of trying to keep our city safe. But I also recognize that the police department was doing the best it could during this extremely challenging time. Do I agree with 180 people being arrested during a protest? Not at all. Let me state that for the record: not at all. But I do understand that they were doing the best that they could based on all of the information they were receiving about the protests. I’ve met with the chief of police, state superintendent, as well as our sheriff, to discuss our concerns about what was happening. And based on their conversation, you know, I may not agree with the way they went about addressing the matter, but I do understand, in those positions of leadership, there are tough decisions to be made, and they made the ones that they thought were going to keep the community safe.
AMY GOODMAN: LaMont Cole, I want to thank you for being with us, city councilman in Baton Rouge, where Alton Sterling was killed by police. I want to thank you for being with us. When we come back from break, Dr. Cornel West joins us, professor at Union Theological Seminary. He is here in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention. We’ll find out why. Stay with us.