OUR VIEW: Calls for justice and pleas for renewed peace

As we come to terms with the senseless, needless deaths Sunday of three police officers in Baton Rouge, it is tempting, even easy, to view the tragedy in the context of the larger national debate on procedures.

The debate on how and when police officers use deadly force, and against whom, has continued for many years but has intensified more recently due to the ability of people to see and share videos that tell the story in a way still pictures never could.

It should be noted here that videos can also be deceptive. Now as at all times, it takes talented investigators to look at the record in its totality, in order for facts to be established as facts and distinguished from myth.

The Baton Rouge PD officers who died Sunday, Cpl. Montrell Jackson, patrolman Matthew Gerald and Deputy Brad Garafola of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, now join those who protected and served the public over centuries but were cheated of further contributions to society by the act of a criminal.

The death of a police officer in the line of duty diminishes all of us. It is an indication that someone – whether for profit or to make a point – is willing to erase a point in the thin blue line that protects, keeps order in a society and keeps us a nation of laws. As President Barack Obama, Gov. John Bel Edwards and other elected officials have stated, it is a crime against all of us.

In Terrebonne and Lafourche we are fortunate to be protected and served by dedicated officers from several different agencies. They work hard not just when crisis occurs but on a day to day basis. They have invested in relations with diverse elements of our community. At critical times they have shown a willingness to share with the public, directly or through media outlets such as ours, important information even when the news is not good.

We know that the loss of the three officers in Baton Rouge, like that of the five officers in Dallas, tears at hearts of those who wear the badge because law enforcement is indeed a large family stretching from the north woods to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

We know that displays of community support for our officers at this time when morale is most threatened means a lot to them. If there is one lesson that Sunday’s Baton Rouge tragedy taught us, it is that the unthinkable can happen anywhere, at any time, even on a quiet Sunday morning near an Airline Highway strip mall.

Elevating the act of the individual who claimed these precious lives by defining it as a statement of purpose within the national discussion on police use of deadly force can be an attractive option. Rhetoric that claims the blood he chose to spill is on the hands of our leaders, as some has done, disrespects the dead rather than honors them.

The right of people lawfully to express their disapproval of a government policy or police procedure is something each and every one of those heroes likely has upheld in one way or another. To stifle honest debate in the name of heroes diminishes what they stood for.

One of the slain officers, Cpl. Jackson, had written before his death of the trials associated with being a black officer in a department under scrutiny because of an action – right or wrong – that another officer took. Cpl. Jackson wrote about looks of scorn directed at him when in uniform, and initial suspicion when not, by those who also wear the badge.

The paradox is poignant and painful to behold.

As we mourn it would be a far greater thing for all of us to recall the words of Bishop Shelton Fabre, who on Sunday pleaded for an end to violence and called all people of good will to prayer in a manner that, to our knowledge, is unprecedented in our locality

Seeking to end violence against police officers and to encourage policies and laws that place greater value on the lives of all individuals are not contradictory concepts. Peace and justice coexist easily when allowed to thrive.

Our words and thoughts, no matter our beliefs on these matters, must strive toward the existence and encouragement of both. •