By Sunday afternoon police had released almost no information about the shooter or shooters. However, as was the case after five officers were killed last week in Dallas, activists who have rallied against police violence said they know that their political opponents would be quick to assign blame for the shooting to their movement.
“We’re all grieving. We’re still grieving the loss of Alton Sterling. We don’t value any life more than any other life,” said Ada Goodly, an attorney and activist with the National Lawyers Guild in Baton Rouge, who had been involved in the recent protests. “This is a huge loss for a community that is already grieving.”
Storied civil rights figures as well as the young leaders who make up the Black Lives Matter protest movement were quick to decry the violence against officers in Baton Rouge.
“Today was just horrific and it is obviously something that none of us condone,” said Myra Richardson, a 17-year-old activist who has been involved in the protests in Baton Rouge since the police shooting of Alton Sterling last week. “What can you say in a moment of tragedy like this? We’re just really praying for the families.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said that for decades black activists have called for justice but have never advocated attacks on police officers. Any attempt to link the shootings in Dallas or Baton Rouge to peaceful protesters, he said, was an unfair smear.
“Shooting police is not a civil rights tactic,” said Jackson, a longtime civil rights leader. “The shooting in Dallas had nothing to do with the civil rights struggle, and neither does the shooting in Baton Rouge.”
Jackson, speaking by phone from Washington, where he is attending the annual meeting of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, said was with several police officials from Baton Rouge when he first found out that the officers had been killed.
“The man I was with broke down crying,” Jackson said. “They knew these guys, and they were devastated.”
The killings of at least three police officers comes as protests continue nationwide over police use of force. While all of the leading activists associated with the protest movement have previously decried violence against police officers, they know that political opponents will likely attempt to blame their movement for these officers’ deaths.
DeRay Mckesson, a prominent activist who has attended protests in dozens of cities including Baton Rouge, said Sunday that he does not condone violence against police officers and reiterated his calls for peaceful protests.
“There are more questions right now than answers,” Mckesson said of the shooting in Baton Rouge. “The movement began as a response to violence, it was a call to end violence, and that call to end violence was true two years ago, was true 10 days ago, and is true today.”
Mckesson, who was arrested last week while protesting in Baton Rouge, said he has been in contact with local activists on Sunday.
“Our call has been a call for justice, a living breathing justice,” he said. “A just world is a world where people don’t experience the trauma in the first place.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton decried the shooting of the officers, and noted that he and other civil rights figures have consistently called for peace.
“We all denounce the killing of police officers,” he said. “We don’t want to see this movement, which began with the killing of Eric Garner, smeared as an anti-police movement. We certainly don’t condone violence.”
Sharpton spoke Sunday from a New York cemetery where he was laying flowers with the family of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man killed by New York City police officers two years ago.
Sharpton said that he had just finished speaking at a church service with the families of black men killed by the police when he heard of the shooting in Baton Rouge. When he announced the news from the pulpit, the mothers of Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and Garner all stood up and had a moment of silent prayer for the families of the officers in Louisiana.
“I have a moral and ethical intolerance for shooting police or anyone,” Sharpton said. “We’re fighting for justice, we’re not fighting for revenge.”
Jackson, who has led anti-violence demonstrations for decades, called for new gun control measures in response to the Baton Rouge shooting.
“You can’t heal a wound until you get the germs and the debris out of the sore,” Jackson said. “We want to heal the wound but you’ve got to get the glass out of the wound.”
He added that, without some kind of federal action, he fears this summer will continue to be deadly, especially given the current state of economic and racial anxieties throughout the country.
“We must choose reconciliation over retaliation,” Jackson said. “And we must not let this denigrate into a race war, because there are many people in this country who are legally armed to the teeth with weapons against which there is no defense for our police or our society.”