Baton Rouge police officer Montrell Jackson’s pleas for the city to unite and “don’t let hate infect your heart” echoed Monday throughout the funeral service that grieved a man who only four months earlier had been celebrating the birth of his son.
Jackson wrote those words days before he was shot to death, in a Facebook post that described the difficulties of being both a black man and a police officer. His younger brother, Kedrick Pitts, repeated the words again at Jackson’s funeral.
“All I wanted to do was be like you,” Pitts said, speaking to his brother. “Now I can brag about you being an angel.”
Then, he told the overflowing church: “God bless you all. Don’t let hate infect your heart.”
A 10-year veteran of the police force, Jackson and two other law enforcement officers were killed July 17 by a masked gunman who officials say appeared to be targeting police. Jackson was the last of the three to be buried.
Thousands packed the church in north Baton Rouge for a two-and-a-half-hour service celebrating the 32-year-old corporal in joyful singing and dancing mixed with tearful memories.
His flag-draped black casket, striped with a police officer’s blue, bore the Superman logo, a nod to his wife’s calling Jackson “her Superman.”
Mourners described Jackson as a loyal friend, an officer who loved his city and a proud father of his 4-month-old son Mason.
Pitts joked of Jackson’s extensive shoe collection. Friend Gelrod Armstrong remembered his love of comics and a patrol car so spotless it even made a handcuffed man sitting in the back stop struggling and take notice. Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie called Jackson “a giant of a man, with a heart to match it.”
Nearly everyone who spoke mentioned the Facebook post, in which Jackson described himself – in the midst of recent protests over the shooting death of a black man by white police officers – as “tired physically and emotionally.”
“I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat,” Jackson wrote.
That emotional posting was printed on a bookmark and in the program given to funeral attendees. But rather than focus on Jackson’s sadness, friends and family stressed the message’s hopeful end.
“This city MUST and WILL get better,” he wrote. And he ended with: “If you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer. I got you.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards cited Jackson’s Facebook message as showing a man who loved his community and cared deeply about protecting it.
“Montrell has inspired me. Montrell has inspired the nation,” the governor said.
Dabadie spoke to Jackson, his voice breaking at times. He told Jackson: “From heaven, I hope you can feel this amazing show of love and support. Baton Rouge loves you.”
Before the funeral, hundreds of law enforcement officers from around the country streamed past the casket, some solemnly saluting and others making the sign of the cross.
Michael Fendrick, a sheriff’s deputy from Dakota County, Minnesota, was among those who traveled as part of an honor guard team. He’d been at the two other officers’ funerals as well.
He said the effort was to show families “that their loved one was just as important to us as to them.”
The members of Jackson’s squad unit stood straight, some wiping away tears, behind Cpl. Ivory Taylor as he told Jackson’s wife Trenisha: “In the weeks to come when the cameras stop flashing, we got you.”
Each member individually walked to Jackson’s casket and rested a hand on it, pausing briefly.
The Living Faith Christian Center, which holds 2,500 people in its seats, was packed and overflowing. Jackson’s beaming smile was emblazoned on posters near his coffin and wall screens in the church.
Jeffery Kelley, 49, didn’t know Jackson, but traveled to the church after his overnight work shift ended Monday morning to pay his respects.
“He was protecting us as well as his co-workers. In a situation like that, you’ve got to have sympathy,” Kelley said. “Your heart’s got to go out for stuff like that. It’s not a black thing. It’s not a white thing. It’s a human race thing.”
Baton Rouge residents have been mourning at a series of memorial and funeral services since Jackson, police officer Matthew Gerald, 41, and East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola, 45, were killed in a July 17 shootout with former Marine, Gavin Long.
Long’s attack came after the shooting death of a black man, Alton Sterling, by white police officers sparked protests around the city. Police say they don’t know if Long was responding to that death, but they say he deliberately targeted officers.
A multiagency public memorial service for all three officers is planned for Thursday at which Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch are expected to speak.
SOURCE: The Associated Press