The Latest On Baton Rouge: A City In Healing

Jul 23, 2016
Originally published on July 23, 2016 11:18 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The city of Baton Rouge is mourning its fallen officers and trying to find a path forward after weeks of violence and protests. Sheriff deputies - Sheriff's Deputy Brett Garafola will be remembered at a funeral today. He's one of three law enforcement officers who were killed last Sunday by a gunman authorities say targeted police. NPR's Debbie Elliott has more.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Emotions are still raw as Baton Rouge buries the slain officers and continues to grapple with the July 5 police killing of a black man. At the funeral yesterday for rookie policeman Matthew Gerald, Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden acknowledged the simmering racial tension in the city.

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KIP HOLDEN: We have to set aside differences and join together and understand the meaning of the word respect.

ELLIOTT: Holden is black and has come under fire for his slow response when video showed a white officer shooting Alton Sterling while he was pinned to the ground. Now Holden is publicly calling for unity.

HOLDEN: A community in mourning should evaluate itself and say, what else can I do to make my community better? Why is it that I have to have the frame of mind us versus them when the men and women who donned their uniform are here for all of us?

ELLIOTT: Last night, a diverse group of faith leaders came together to start that work at a service of reconciliation at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Pray - I'm going to keep on praying.

ELLIOTT: Clergy offered prayers, including one of protection for police officers. Bethel AME pastor Herman Kelly.

HERMAN KELLY: We are a community, and we're going to have to live with each other.

ELLIOTT: Kelly says rebuilding trust is going to take some work.

KELLY: In our community - in the African-American community - a lot of young black men - when they see the uniform, all of a sudden, they begin to think confrontation. So we have to begin to show them another side.

ELLIOTT: Finding the space to open a fresh dialogue will be difficult, given the climate in the country. Father Dan Krutz, director of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, says the crisis in Baton Rouge is a symptom of the nation's struggle.

DAN KRUTZ: This is a very unsettling summer. I'm thinking that it's something like what I remember back - I think it was in 1968 - where there were some assassinations and burnings around the country in major cities. The anger just spilled over into the streets.

ELLIOTT: Healing in unity can come, he says, but it will take time. Sitting in the front pew at the Bethel AME service, 77-year-old Hassan Abdullah sees what's happening in Baton Rouge as part of a larger reckoning.

HASSAN ABDULLAH: The human soul is crying out for freedom.

ELLIOTT: As the conversation about healing begins, the mourning continues. Deputy Brad Garafola's funeral is this afternoon. The 45-year-old father of four was working a security detail at the convenience store where the gunman attacked. On Monday, the city will remember 32-year-old police officer Montrell Jackson. Just days before the killings, he had posted a Facebook message about how difficult it was to be both a police officer and a black man. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Baton Rouge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.