By Andy Sullivan
BATON ROGUE, La. – The black U.S. Marine Corps veteran who shot dead three police officers in Louisiana’s capital specifically targeted them, police said on Monday, as the United States reeled from the latest deadly violence involving police and black people.
Following Sunday’s shootings, Baton Rouge police officers took steps to increase their own security. Baton Rouge police spokesman Sergeant Don Coppola said, “We usually ride solo. We’re riding in pairs for now.”
The city had been the scene of repeated protests against police violence following the July 5 fatal shooting by officers of Alton Sterling, a black man, outside a convenience store.
The Baton Rouge gunman has been identified as Gavin Long, a 29-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri, who served in the Marines for five years, including a 2008 deployment in the Iraq war. Long, dressed in black and armed with a rifle, was shot dead on Sunday morning in a gunfight with police.
Long had legally changed his name in May 2015 to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra, according to records in Jackson County, Missouri.
Racial tension in the United States has been especially high since a black former U.S. Army Reserve soldier fatally shot five Dallas police officers who were patrolling a protest over the police shootings of Sterling and another black man in Minnesota.
“It’s a very tough situation here, an attack on the very fabric of society,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told MSNBC on Monday.
Louisiana State Police spokesman Lieutenant J.B. Slaton told the New York Times on Monday that a preliminary investigation shows the Baton Rouge gunman “definitely ambushed those officers.”
“We are still trying to find out what his motive was, and that’s going to be part of our investigation. But we believe he was targeting those officers,” Slaton said.
A website, social media accounts and YouTube videos that appeared tied to Long include complaints about police treatment of black people and praise for killings of the Dallas policemen.Documents also showed that Long pledged affiliation to an African-American offshoot of the U.S. anti-government Sovereign Citizen Movement.
The dead officers in Baton Rouge were identified as Montrell Jackson, 32; Matthew Gerald, 41; and Brad Garafola, 45.
Edwards said one of the wounded officers was fighting for his life while a second underwent surgery and needed further surgery on his neck. A third officer who had a graze wound to his neck was released from a hospital on Sunday.
Memorial at shooting scene
At the B Quick gas station where the shootings occurred, people left flowers and balloons in memory of the slain officers.
“I just want us to have peace and drive down the road and not feel like we have to duck our heads and look around and see if someone’s going to be on top of a roof,” said Pam Collins, a resident of the Baton Rouge suburb of Prairieville who brought three shiny balloons to honor the officers.
Law enforcement officials were working to determine if the Baton Rouge gunman acted alone or conspired with others, Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden told CNN.
“We are on every lead,” he said.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in remarks prepared for a conference of black law enforcement officers in Washington, said federal law enforcement agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service were on the scene in Baton Rouge.
“At the Department of Justice, we are determined to do everything we can to bridge divides, to heal rifts, to restore trust, and to ensure that every American feels respected, supported, and safe,” Lynch said in her remarks.
Louisiana’s capital is a city with a long history of distrust between black residents and law enforcement that has been inflamed by Sterling’s death. For many in Baton Rouge, the police have been viewed as overly aggressive and unrepresentative of a city where more than half the 230,000 residents are black.
On a July 10 YouTube video attributed to Long, he said he was speaking from Dallas after going there to join protests against police violence, and suggested that only violence and financial pressure will cause change.
The recent U.S. violence has heightened security concerns, notably for the Republican convention beginning in Cleveland where Donald Trump is positioned to get his party’s presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election, and the upcoming Democratic convention in Philadelphia where Hillary Clinton is due to get her party’s nomination.
In Cincinnati, Clinton promised in a speech to the NAACP civil rights group to bring the “full weight of the law” against people who kill police officers.