Motive unclear for killing of 3 Baton Rouge police officers

2016-07-17 23:35
Police guard the emergency room entrance of Our Lady Of The Lake Medical Centre in Baton Rouge, where the wounded officers were taken. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

Police guard the emergency room entrance of Our Lady Of The Lake Medical Centre in Baton Rouge, where the wounded officers were taken. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

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Washington - A black gunman shot dead three police officers in the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge on Sunday, in the latest spate of violence involving law enforcement.

The shooting, which also wounded three other officers, took place in a city scarred by high racial tensions and numerous protests against police brutality since the death earlier this month of Alton Sterling, a black man shot at point-blank range by police.

Louisiana State Police Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson told reporters the gunman behind the shootings was killed and there are no suspects at large. The motive was not immediately clear.

One of the wounded officers "is in critical condition fighting for his life as we speak, [a] 41-year-old," Edmonson said. The other two officers were in stable condition.

"With God's help, we will get through this. To me, this is not so much about gun control as it is about what's in men's hearts," said Edmonson, who like some of his colleagues who spoke in the press conference was clearly shaken.

"And until we come together as a nation, as a people, to heal as a people, if we don't do that and this madness continues, we will surely perish as a people."

The shooting took place along a highway around 08:40 (13:40 GMT), after police responded to a call about a man carrying a rifle.

"Baton Rouge officers at a convenience store observed the individual. He was wearing all black standing behind a beauty supply store holding a rifle," Edmonson said.

Some reports said the suspect was wearing a mask. US media identified the suspect as Gavin Long, a 29-year-old African American from Kansas City, Missouri, whose birthday was on Sunday.

Witness Brady Vancel told CBS television affiliate WAFB that he saw what may have been gang members shooting at each other before police arrived.

"This has nothing to do with any situation," he said, referring to controversies surrounding a series of high-profile shootings involving police - including the killings July 7 of five Dallas police officers - that have shocked the country over the last several weeks.

One of those killed was Sterling, who was shot two days before the Dallas attack.

The shootings helped expose deep fault lines through society, reviving long-running debates about racial prejudice and an epidemic of gun violence.

'Cowardly' 

President Barack Obama, who has had to address multiple mass shooting tragedies during his term, condemned the Baton Rouge shooting as "cowardly" and demanded an end to such violence. 

"For the second time in two weeks, police officers who put their lives on the line for ours every day were doing their job when they were killed in a cowardly and reprehensible assault," Obama said in a statement.

"These are attacks on public servants, on the rule of law and on civilised society, and they have to stop."

The five police officers in Dallas were killed by a gunman during a demonstration triggered by the fatal police shooting of Sterling and another African-American man in Minnesota whose dying moments were captured in shocking video footage that went viral online.

The first African American president of the United States, Obama has made repeated calls for racial unity.

"We may not yet know the motives for this attack, but I want to be clear: there is no justification for violence against law enforcement. None," Obama said.

"These attacks are the work of cowards who speak for no one. They right no wrongs. They advance no causes."

Obama pledged the federal government's full support in the investigation of the incident.

"There is no place in the United States for such appalling violence," his Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, took to Twitter to say: "We are TRYING to fight ISIS, and now our own people are killing our police. Our country is divided and out of control. The world is watching."

During Sunday's shooting, Vancel said he saw two men running away and a third lying motionless on the ground. At least one was carrying what appeared to be an AR-15 automatic rifle amid the sound of gunfire.

The races of the shooters and the police officers involved were not immediately clear.

Multiple shots could be heard as civilian cars quickly backed away during the incident.

'Unspeakable heinous attack'

"Today has been a very tough day here in Baton Rouge and in Louisiana and in our country - an absolutely unspeakable, heinous attack on law enforcement here in Baton Rouge," Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said.

"The violence, the hatred, just has to stop."

He vowed that "every resource is going to be available to be used to bring these perpetrators, if there's more than one, to justice", pointing to support at the federal, state and local levels.

Last week, police arrested more than 100 protesters taking part in a demonstration against police brutality in Baton Rouge under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sunday's shooting also plays into a debate about gun control in a country in which firearms killed about 13 440 people last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Last month, Democratic lawmakers, pushing for tougher gun-control laws after a massacre in a Florida gay nightclub killed 49 people, staged a virtually unprecedented 24-hour sit-in in Congress after Republicans refused to allow a vote on two widely supported measures

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