I’ve been a yearly visitor to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for as long as I can remember. Just over 200 thousand people live in the Capital City including my first cousins, Aunt and Uncle. Here shirt-sticking humidity is the norm, football is king, gumbo is spicy, and guns are everywhere.
Still, Gavin Eugene Long stood out to gun comfortable Baton Rouge residents driving on Airline Highway, a 115 mile long road that stretches almost to New Orleans. He was dressed in all black carrying a rifle striding down the side of the busy expressway. Long was only a mile away from Baton Rouge police headquarters when he targeted officers in his line of sight and opened fire. We now know from the police released details and Long’s online rantings that this military trained shooter was disaffected and enraged. In a matter of minutes, the police/shooter exchange left 3 officers dead, 3 others wounded, and Gavin Long’s lifeless body on the ground. And it’s left the nation trapped in a kind of grisly Ground Hog Day, a loop of violent gun attacks.
The Baton Rouge shootings inspired remarkably similar headlines from both the Boston Globe-- "another jolt to the nation"-- and the New York Times --"shooting jolts a nation on edge." But, I haven’t seen any evidence that we are jolted. Saddened yes, resigned, yes, but not jolted.
A week out from these killings we may be a nation shaken by the news, but we do not seem moved to take any action other than mourning. I believe in the power of the prayers offered in sympathy and healing, but as the Bible says faith without works is dead.
If the people who say they support cops mean it, maybe they’ll take note that the slain officers were wearing safety vests. Long used a IWI Tavor SAR 5.56 caliber rifle capable of driving bullets deep past their protective clothing. Louisiana State Police Colonel Mike Edmondson told CBS news no one on the street should have this kind of powerful weaponry.
On his body they found two other lethal weapons; surveillance cameras showed his tactical skill in using them. Critics say adjusting, and strengthening gun laws won’t stop people determined to kill. But, policies making it harder for members of identified hate groups-- as Gavin Eugene Long was—to get guns, just might have prevented these deaths.
The Baton Rouge I know has long had a shameful history of racial discrimination, before now known only to locals. Unsurprisingly, most whites attended the memorials for the police officers and most blacks held vigils for Alton Sterling. I listen to some of the anger and blame aimed at Black Lives Matter and I am reminded of the vilification the Reverend Martin Luther King received when he came out in opposition to the Vietnam War. He pushed back against those he said would seek to silence protestors, equating “dissent with loyalty." "Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats," Reverend King said, “are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins.” Maybe if we stop blaming some of the people who want us to see, we won’t need another jolt of senseless violence to act.