By Sam Karlin
BATON ROUGE, La. – A gunman killed three police officers and wounded three others in Louisiana’s capital on Sunday, just days after the police shooting of a black man there sparked nationwide protests, one of which led to the massacre of five Dallas policemen.
Officers in Baton Rouge were responding to a call of a man carrying a gun when shots were fired at around 9 a.m. local time (1400 GMT). Two Baton Rouge police officers and one sheriff’s deputy were killed.
The gunman died in a shootout with police a short time after he opened fire on the first group of officers, Colonel Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said in a press conference.
The suspect, identified by a U.S. official as Gavin Long of Kansas City, Missouri, was believed to have acted alone. Investigators suspect a 911 emergency call may have been used to lure police to the scene, the official said on condition of anonymity.
It was not immediately clear whether there was a link between the shootings and the recent unrest over the police killings of black men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota.
Authorities did not give any information about the gunman’s possible motive.
President Barack Obama condemned the attack, vowed that justice would be done and called on Americans to focus on rhetoric and actions that united the country rather than divided it.
“We as a nation have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence on law enforcement,” Obama said in televised remarks from the White House.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards called the shootings an “unspeakable, heinous attack” that served no purpose.
“There simply is no place for more violence. That doesn’t help anyone, it doesn’t further the conversation, it doesn’t address any injustice, perceived or real. It is just an injustice in and of itself,” he told reporters in Baton Rouge.
Obama has sought to balance concerns about police abuses, largely against African-Americans, while paying tribute to fallen officers. He attended a memorial service last week for the five Dallas police officers killed by a black ex-U.S. soldier at the end of a protest against the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota.
The Black Lives Matter civil rights movement has called for police to end racial profiling, bringing the issue to national attention ahead of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election. Republicans have pushed back, calling for support of the police.
It is a time of especially heightened security across the country, notably in Cleveland and Philadelphia, hosts to this week’s Republican National Convention and next week’s Democratic National Convention, respectively, which are expected to formally nominate Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for the election.
WORRIES AROUND CONVENTION
“We demand law and order,” Trump said in a Facebook posting Sunday afternoon.
In a statement, Clinton urged Americans to “stand together to reject violence and strengthen our communities.”
The head of a Cleveland police union called on Ohio Governor John Kasich to declare a state of emergency and suspend laws allowing for the open carry of firearms during the Republican convention.
“I don’t care what the legal precedent is. I feel strongly that leadership needs to stand up and defend these police officers,” Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, told Reuters in an interview.
Loomis said he was concerned about copycat shootings at the Republican convention.
A spokeswoman for Kasich said the governor did not have the power to suspend the open carry law.
Sunday’s shootings occurred about a mile from the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters, where dozens of people were arrested this month while protesting Sterling’s death. The 37-year-old African-American father of five was shot and killed at close quarters by law enforcement officers on July 5.
A witness to Baton Rouge shootings, Brady Vancel, told a CBS television affiliate he had seen a gunman, a second man in a red shirt lying in a parking lot and another gunman running away “as shots were being fired back and forth from several guns.”
He said the police arrived shortly after the gunfire began.
One of the injured officers was listed in critical condition at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, while another was in fair condition, hospital spokeswoman Kelly Zimmerman said. The third was taken to another hospital where he was in fair condition.
Shocked community members lined the highway about a mile from the shootings, at the site of the protests against Sterling’s killing.
“It never hits home until it’s in your own living room,” said Redell Norman, an activist who attended the recent protests at police headquarters. (Reuters)