Montrell Jackson, one of three Baton Rouge police officers killed Sunday, had written about tensions he felt following the police killing of Alton Sterling earlier this month, using a Facebook post to tell his community, “Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”
That Facebook post has been shared widely in the 24 hours since Jackson and two other officers were slain outside a convenience store, with his words about integrity and love — including love for his city — forming a very public legacy.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch quoted Jackson in a speech Monday, highlighting his observation as a black police officer that “In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks — and out of uniform, some consider me a threat.”
As Lynch noted, that wasn’t all of Jackson’s message: He also said, “These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”
Jackson’s brother, Kedrick Pitts, spoke to NPR on Sunday and said that Jackson “loved his job, he worked his job seven days a week.”
Jackson, 32, joined the police force in 2006; he came from a family that includes several members of police and sheriff’s department forces, Pitts told All Things Considered.
Also killed in the attack were BRPD Officer Matthew Gerald, 41, and Brad Garafola, 45, a deputy with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. Like Jackson, both men were married and had children: Gerald had two kids, according to NOLA.com, while Garafola had four, reports local newspaper The Advocate.
Garafola died after he moved to provide assistance to the two fallen officers, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said Monday. “He died a hero,” Gautreaux said. “They all did.”
Jackson is survived by his wife and their 4-month-old baby.
“He just had his firstborn son. He always wanted to be a father,” Pitts said. “I became a father before him, and when I had mine, he treated mine like his. And everyone wanted to see him be a father because that’s the most important thing to him.”
Asked what he would like the world to know about his brother, Pitts answered, “He would want the world to be a better place. Let’s put an end to all this madness, and everybody come together.”
That message was a big part of the post Jackson put on Facebook, along with a photo of himself and his son. Here’s more of that text, in case you haven’t seen it:
“I’m tired physically and emotionally. Disappointed in some family friends and officers for some reckless comments, but, hey, what’s in your heart is in your heart. I still love you all because hate takes too much energy. But I definitely won’t be looking at you the same. Thank you to everyone that’s reached out to me or my wife. It was needed and much appreciated. I swear to God I love this city, but I wonder if the city loves me in uniform. I get nasty, hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. I’ve experienced so much in my short life in these last three days have tested me to the core.”
Those words were published July 8, days after the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge set off protests there. Pitts spoke about his brother’s reaction to those events:
“He felt hurt, and he wants justice for their family also. But he just asked everyone to respect everyone, continue to love everyone. And he wanted everyone to get through this together. He didn’t want any hatred going on — especially killing. He was a police officer, he wanted peace.”
As for how Pitts feels, he says his brother was everything to him. Here’s more of what he told NPR’s Michel Martin on Sunday:
“I just want to say God bless these killers. I continue to pray for those guys, too. And I don’t know what were their motives, but I just hope this is a real eye-opener to the community, to the whole world. It sucks that it had to be my brother, my best friend. But God had his plan, and I trust and I believe in him. And that’s it.”
When Lynch quoted Jackson on Monday during her speech to members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, she also echoed the slain officer’s words:
“We are devastated by his passing, and that of his comrades. But if we are truly to honor his service and mourn his loss — and the loss of his friends and colleagues, and of too many others who have been taken from us — we must not let hatred infect our hearts.”