WASHINGTON — An ex-US Marine and Iraq war veteran shot and killed three Baton Rouge cops on Sunday, in an act reminiscent of slayings in Dallas to avenge African-Americans killed by police.
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 Supt Col Mike Edmonson said the gunman — identified by US media as Gavin Long, 29 — was killed in a gunfight and there are no suspects at large. The motive was not immediately clear.
“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,” a shaken Edmonson said .
A recent series of shootings involving police have exposed deep fault lines through US society surrounding racial prejudice and gun violence.
The early July shooting of Sterling by Baton Rouge police and another black man by Minnesota police led to a nationwide wave of marches against police abuses.
The dying moments of both men were captured in video footage that went viral online.
But one of the officers killed by Long — Montrell Jackson, 32 — was black. The other two were identified as Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola.
“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,” Jackson wrote recently on Facebook.
“Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better … if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer I got you.”
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 told reporters at the White House.
“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. “Nothing justifies violence against law enforcement,” he said.
At a July 7 march in Dallas, Texas, a black gunman killed five police and wounded several others before he was slain. The Dallas shooter, identified as Micah Xavier Johnson, an army reservist who served time in Afghanistan, said that he wanted to kill white cops.
The Baton Rouge shooting took place along a highway near the police headquarters around 8.40am (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.
The shooter, based in Kansas City — more than 1,100km north of Baton Rouge — was a former Marine who served in Iraq in 2008-2009.
In 2015, Long legally changed his name 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 said he had travelled to Dallas after the July 7 shooting. It is also filled with posts targeting white people. — AFP