'I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me'

By Theresa Vargas, Jessica Contrera

Baton Rouge Police Officer Montrell Jackson. Photo / AP
Baton Rouge Police Officer Montrell Jackson. Photo / AP

Joycelyn Jackson was already sitting in church when she said she found herself needing God most.

She still hadn't been told that her younger brother Montrell Jackson was among three officers killed in Baton Rouge. Then her pastor asked the congregation to send prayers to her family.

"I didn't want to break down in church, but it was just something I couldn't hold," said Jackson, 49. "He was a wonderful person. A wonderful person."

Jackson, 32, and Matthew Gerald, 41, of the Baton Rouge Police Department, and Brad Garafola, 45, with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, were killed during an attack that also injured three others. Gerald's father confirmed his son's death by phone; Garafola's wife confirmed his death to the Advocate newspaper in Louisiana.

President Barack Obama condemned the attack.

"For the second time in two weeks, police officers who put their lives on the line for ours every day were doing their job when they were killed in a cowardly and reprehensible assault," Obama said in a statement, released several hours after the shooting. "These are attacks on public servants, on the rule of law, and on civilised society, and they have to stop."

For Joycelyn Jackson, "it's coming to the point where no lives matter, whether you're black or white or Hispanic or whatever."

She said her brother had married in recent years and had a baby boy he adored. But in an emotional Facebook post on July 8, he said the strain of his job had left him "tired physically and emotionally".

"I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me," he wrote. "In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. ... These are trying times. Please don't let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better."

Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson identified the officer as his cousin on Twitter, using the hashtag #PrayForBatonRouge, which was adopted by many.

"Rest in peace to my cousin Montrell Jackson who was one of the policeman that was killed."

Joycelyn Jackson said her brother, at 6-foot-3, towered over many, but that in her memories he will always be that little boy who was a picky eater. She said his siblings would tease him about how, when he was about 9, he insisted on eating only Burger King Whoppers for dinner. She said she was the one who would get him to eat other food.

Jackson said she never worried about her brother, who was "outgoing" and "kind," being on the force, not until recent tensions in Baton Rouge after officers fatally shot Alton Sterling earlier this month outside a convenience store.

Jackson said another of her brothers had told the pastor about Montrell Jackson's death before she made it to church for an afternoon service. Afterward, she said, the weight of it "rushed" over her.

If she could talk to the shooter, or anyone considering violence against officers, she said she would remind them of a judgment beyond the penal system.

"If I could say anything to anyone, it is to get their lives right with God," she said. "Hell is horrible, horrible place to be."

Kedrick Pitts, the half-brother of slain Baton Rouge Policeman Montrell Jackson, stands in front of Montrell's mother's house. Photo / AP
Kedrick Pitts, the half-brother of slain Baton Rouge Policeman Montrell Jackson, stands in front of Montrell's mother's house. Photo / AP

Gerald, a father of two, had served in both the Marines and the Army. He deployed to Iraq three times, his friends said.

"Matt was the kind of guy that you knew immediately when he entered the room," said Ryan Cabral, who served with Gerald in Iraq. "Whether it was the energy he carried with him or that Cajun accent he had . . . maybe it was the Marine in him."

When Gerald was excited about something, you would be, too, Cabral said. When he called after Louisiana State University football games, Cabral could tell by the sound of his voice whether the Tigers had been victorious. He filled his Facebook page with testaments to American patriotism: American flags, police badges and photos from his service. He loved to spend his free time with his wife and two daughters, or fishing on his bass boat. He once took apart and rebuilt the engine just to make it louder.

Cabral, who is now a police officer in Texas, described Gerald and his fellow officers as "made to serve the people."

"We did our time in the military and when that time was up, you just can't turn off that want to serve the people," he said. "Today, he did his final service by giving his life to protect the citizens of Baton Rouge and his fellow brothers and sisters in uniform."

Nick Lambert, who also served with Gerald in the Army, said it is heartbreaking that this is the way his friend died.

"After three tours, not a scratch on him. Comes back home, chooses a job to serve others and this is what our society does?" Lambert said. "It's a coward's way to make a statement."

Garafola leaves behind four children: two sons, ages 21 and 12, and two daughters, 15 and 12, according to the Advocate. "He was a great guy. Not just a great law enforcement [officer], he was a great husband and a great father," his wife, Tonja Garafola, told the newspaper.

- Washington Post

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