WASHINGTON, DC: A black veteran shot three police officers dead Sunday in the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge, in a bloody act reminiscent of recent slayings in Dallas to avenge African Americans killed by law enforcement.
The shooting, which also wounded three other officers, took place in a city scarred by racial tensions and protests against police brutality since the July 5 death of Alton Sterling, a black man shot at point-blank range by white police.
Louisiana State Police Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson told reporters the gunman behind the shooting—widely identified by US media as Gavin Long, 29—was killed and there are no suspects at large. The motive was not immediately clear.
A troubling picture emerged of the shooter, a former Marine whose Iraq tour lasted from June 2008 to Jan. 2009.
Long legally changed his name last year to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra, claiming to be a member of the Washitaw Nation, a group of African Americans claiming to be a Native American nation in the United States.
Setepenra’s Twitter feed, which was filled with posts targeting white people, said he had traveled to Dallas, and he posted videos of himself traveling there.
“Violence is not THE answer (its a answer), but at what point do you stand up so that your people dont become the Native Americans…EXTINCT?” he wrote in a July 13 post.
But one of the officers killed by Long—Montrell Jackson—was black. The other two were identified by US media as Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola.
One of the wounded officers “is in critical condition fighting for his life as we speak,” Edmonson said. The other two officers were in stable condition.
“To me, this is not so much about gun control as it is about what’s in men’s hearts,” said Edmonson, who like some of his colleagues who spoke in the press conference, was clearly shaken. “And until we come together as a nation, as a people, to heal as a people, if we don’t do that and this madness continues, we will surely perish as a people.”
The shooting took place along a highway near police headquarters around 8:40 a.m. (1340 GMT), after officers responded to a call about a man carrying a rifle. The suspect was dressed all in black and, some reports said, wore a mask.
A witness told local media the gunman carried what appeared to be an AR-15 assault-style rifle.
A recent series of high-profile shootings involving police have exposed deep fault lines through US society, reviving long-running debates about racial prejudice and gun violence.
On July 7 a gunman ambushed police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five, during a demonstration triggered by Sterling’s death at the hands of police, as well as that of another African American man in Minnesota whose dying moments were captured in video footage that went viral online.
President Barack Obama condemned the “cowardly” Baton Rouge shooting and demanded an end to such violence.
“It is so important that everyone… right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further,” Obama said. “We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric. We don’t need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or to advance an agenda. We need to temper our words and open our hearts, all of us.”
Obama, the first black US president, has repeatedly called for racial unity.