As law-enforcement authorities identified the man—a former Marine—who killed three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in USA on Sunday, US President Barack Obama called for people to focus on actions which unite rather than divide.
Sunday’s assault on the police came less than two weeks after a black man was killed by police in the Louisiana capital, sparking nationwide protests.
The officers in Baton Rouge were responding to a call about a man carrying a rifle when shots were fired along a highway around 1340 GMT.
Two Baton Rouge police officers and one sheriff's deputy were killed. The shooter identified as former marine Gavin Long, 29, also died in the shoot-out.
Other officers at a convenience store said the suspect was earlier seen standing behind a beauty supply store holding a rifle.
In the second instance of violence against US police in the last month, President Obama condemned the killings in his televised statement. Earlier in July, a sniper targeted police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing four Dallas police personnel and one rapid transit police officer.
“The death of these three great officers underscores the danger police face every day. Nothing justifies violence against law enforcement. Attacks on police is an attack on all of us, on the rule of law…
First of all our hearts go out to the families who are grieving, to the officer fighting for his life.
I am surrounded by the best of the best every single day. I know whenever this happens, we feel it, our families feel it. I want you to know the respect and gratitude we have for all you do for us.”
Obama underscored the need for America to not fall prey to divisive rhetoric which is expected during the election cycle. The Republican convention will start Monday in Cleveland and the Democratic convention on July 25 in Philadelphia.
“Only we can prove through words and through deeds that we will not be divided and we will have to keep on doing so again and again and again.”
A marine, war veteran
CBS, NBC and CNN reported Long, the gunman, was from Kansas City, Missouri.
According to The New York Times, Long was a marine sergeant who served in Iraq in 2008 and 2009. Long was honourably discharged in 2010. Using a pseudonym, Long had previously posted a YouTube video, speaking out against police aggression.
Long is not the first serviceman to have reacted with violence, presumably to prevalent race issues such as discrimination and police brutality.
Micah Johnson the Dallas sniper, who was killed at the end of a long stand-off, was an Afghan war veteran. The 25-year-old private first class served in Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014 and had admitted during the attack that he wanted to exact revenge against police brutality.
— Ali H. Soufan (@Ali_H_Soufan) July 17, 2016
The police believe Long was the only one involved in the attack, Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said in a press conference.
"We do not have an active shooter scenario in Baton Rouge," Edmonson said.
Kip Holden, Baton Rouge Mayor, said the officers were responding to a call of a shooting when they were “ambushed” by at least one gunman.
Baton Rouge Police Department Sergeant Don Coppola described the dead suspect as wearing all black and “some type of mask to conceal [their] identity.”
Initially the police said there may be up to two more suspects at large. They warned the public to be on the lookout for anyone wearing army fatigues, all black or a mask.
‘Not in retaliation’
As condemnations from politicians poured in, someone who had recently lost a loved one in a police shooting also spoke out against the violence.
Veda Sterling, the aunt of Alton Sterling, the black man fatally shot point blank by Baton Rouge police on July 5, said: “I can only imagine things will now get 100 times worse.”
She said, "We want to offer our condolences to the officers' families because we know first-hand what they are going through. We just went through this," she said. "We also want it to be known that this is not in retaliation due to Alton's death. There was no protesting going on there on where this took place."
The death of the 37-year-old father of five prompted protests against the racial bias in US police.
Alton Sterling was laid to rest on July 15; civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton joined hundreds of mourners in Louisiana to pay respects to “Big Alton”.
Gun control and race
Sunday’s shooting has once again reignited the issue of race and gun violence in the United States.
The attack on the police in Dallas closely followed the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – both black and unarmed, both shot dead by police. While Castile was licenced to carry a weapon, he was not holding it at the time he was shot in suburban Minnesota. His partner captured the moments immediately after a police officer shot him on Facebook live.
According to The Washington Post, the killings of Castile and Sterling sent the number of black citizens killed by police to 129 in 2016 so far.
Castile and Sterling’s deaths led to a massive outcry against the continued killing of black citizens by police in the United States.
The sniper responsible for the attack on the police in Dallas had said during the assault that he wanted to retaliate against white police officers and was angry about recent shootings.
In June, Omar Mateen’s killing of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida, once again brought the issue of gun control to the political fore.
Many were outraged that Mateen, 29, killed revellers at Pulse nightclub using a legally-obtained assault rifle.
Crime in the time of elections
Donald Trump, the presumed Republican nominee for the US presidency, also condemned the killings.
"We grieve for the officers killed in Baton Rouge today. How many law enforcement and people have to die because of a lack of leadership in our country? We demand law and order."
Though no motive has been declared, Trump seized the incident as a means to attack those who claim allegiance to the so-called “Islamic State” based in Syria and Iraq.
"We are TRYING to fight ISIS, and now our own people are killing our police. Our country is divided and out of control. The world is watching."
Mateen, claimed he was allied with DAESH and several other armed groups who are in fact at odds with the militant organisation. However, federal investigators in the US have found no evidence Mateen had any real connection to a foreign armed group.
Trump’s opponent and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called the shooting "devastating."
"There is no justification for violence, for hate, for attacks on men and women who put their lives on the line every day in service of our families and communities," Clinton said in a statement.
“Today's devastating assault on police officers in Baton Rouge is an assault on all of us," she said.