Baton Rouge, the capital city of Louisiana, rose to nationwide attention in the last few days for all the wrong reasons. Earlier this month, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who sold CDs outside a convenience store in the city, was shot to death by officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department, triggering widespread protests against the perceived institutionalized racism that exists within law enforcement agencies in the country. The tragedy’s aftermath saw disillusioned, paranoid young men take up arms in a vigilante effort for “retribution,” leading to the deaths of more innocent people, including five police officers in Dallas, followed by three more deaths of law enforcement officials in Baton Rouge on Sunday.
Many hope that the cycle of violence that started in Baton Rouge with the death of Alton Sterling has finally come to an end in the city which has grappled with grief, death and loss in a more profound manner in the last few days than perhaps anywhere else in the country. While tensions continue to simmer in Baton Rouge, it is important to note that the unspeakable tragedies have brought the people in the city together unlike any other time in its history. An exemplary instance of this newfound solidarity among the residents of Baton Rouge was evident at the vigils held in the city for the three slain officers, including Montrell Jackson, only days after Alton Sterling was put to rest.
On Monday, the families of Alton Sterling and Montrell Jackson, two people who experienced different sides of the law, but both were victims of the violence that has engulfed Baton Rouge lately. The bereaved family members came together to mourn the loss of their loved ones. Jose Jackson, the father of 10-year police veteran Montrell Jackson, and Sandra Sterling, aunt of Alton Sterling, joined together Tuesday evening to share their grief and pray for the future of their beloved city, according to local news broadcaster WWLTV.
Jose Jackson spoke of his son’s integrity, and how his passion for helping other people had motivated him to become a police officer since his childhood.
“This is so surreal. It’s hard. You have to have a son, and lose a son, in order to understand. It’s like it’s not real. He’s gone. It’s hard to talk about it, but I know I have to be strong for my son. He died doing what he loved, police work. Ever since he was small, he wanted to be in something that would help people.”
Standing by his side, and also distraught over the death of the three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers, was Sandra Sterling, Alton’s aunt. Condemning the death of the officers in harshest terms, she made an to the people of the country to stand together in these trying times.
“When I saw this I just fell down to my knees,” Sterling said. “That’s all I could do was pray because this is not right. This is not right.”
Both families prayed for the lives lost in the horror that Baton Rouge, and indeed the country, has been witness to since the killing of Alton Sterling.
In these troubling times, when America stands on a forked road, these visuals and the words of those who have suffered most in the recent spate of violence must be a reminder to us that killing law enforcement officials or civilians is not the solution to our problems. Violence, it must be remembered, only begets more violence. And it has to stop, according to the passionate appeal from Louisiana State Representative C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.
“Please stop the violence. Please stop. Just as this family is hurting, now we have many other families that are hurting. This community is hurting.”
America is hurting, and the only way we can stop the grief and the pain is by coming together, just as the families of Montrell Jackson and Alton Sterling showed us.
[Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images]